3 craft brewers change their towns

Microbrewery revival promotes more dynamic urbanscapes

Boulevard Brewing opened in 1989, in Kansas City, Mo., in the Westside neighborhood, creating a brewery out of a building that had been a railroad’s laundry. While it probably would have been cheaper for the company to be in the suburbs, the brewery’s managers are “committed urbanists” who like the idea of contributing to the vitality of the central city as opposed to building on undeveloped land in the suburbs, says Boulevard’s CFO, Jeff Crum. Enlarge photo

Boulevard Brewing/Associated Press

Boulevard Brewing opened in 1989, in Kansas City, Mo., in the Westside neighborhood, creating a brewery out of a building that had been a railroad’s laundry. While it probably would have been cheaper for the company to be in the suburbs, the brewery’s managers are “committed urbanists” who like the idea of contributing to the vitality of the central city as opposed to building on undeveloped land in the suburbs, says Boulevard’s CFO, Jeff Crum.

In once rundown urban districts across the country, craft breweries have helped to transform the neighborhoods around them.

Small-business owners tackled the hard work of transforming industrial buildings, many of which had sat empty as demographic changes pulled manufacturers and residents to the suburbs.

Small-time, independent brewers have been one of the beer market’s growth drivers. The number of breweries in the U.S. catapulted from 92 in 1980 to 2,514 as of May 2013, according to craft beer trade group Brewers Association. Barrels shipped have more than doubled in the past decade, and craft beer now makes up nearly 7 percent of a U.S. beer market that is growing slowly overall, according to trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights.

As the breweries churned out beer, they drew visitors and eventually new, young residents – and more small businesses.

Here’s a look at three breweries whose presence helped to change their surroundings:

Downtown digs

Boulevard Brewing opened in 1989 in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood, creating a brewery out of a building that had been a railroad’s laundry. While it probably would have been cheaper for the company to be in the suburbs, the brewery’s managers are “committed urbanists” who like the idea of contributing to the vitality of the central city as opposed to building on undeveloped land in the suburbs, says Boulevard’s chief financial officer, Jeff Crum.

The building’s renovation ranged from replacing pipes to cutting out a skylight to make room for tanks. And, in order to grow, Boulevard had to buy the land around it from different owners, get approvals from neighbors and get the city to rezone the land around it.

The brewery, at first, struggled to attract visitors, but now draws about 50,000 people annually as the area around it picked up alongside a broader renewal in nearby downtown Kansas City.

“Not very many years ago this would be an area you’d stay the hell away from,” says Danny O’Neill, who opened a coffee roaster, the Roasterie, down the street from Boulevard in 1993. Boulevard helped him find his building, and, nowadays, the coffee factory and brewery host tours and weddings. “Somebody has to go in there first, and I think that’s the role that Boulevard played,” O’Neill says.

On the waterfront

Harpoon Brewery opened on the South Boston waterfront in 1986, when it was surrounded by auto body shops and little else. Now, the brewery draws more than 85,000 people a year from tours and tastings, and thousands more from festivals. These days, the city is focused on redeveloping the area. New apartment and office buildings, restaurants and a convention center sit nearby.

Harpoon recently negotiated a 50-year lease with the city. The rent will rise over time, but generally, long leases provide protection from spikes that can happen when an area becomes so popular that property values skyrocket.

Across the Bay

The tech boom has made one brewpub’s growth plans more complicated. In San Francisco, 21st Amendment Brewery is two blocks from AT&T Park where baseball’s San Francisco Giants play. Along with the bustling technology sector, 21st Amendment helped to transform the city’s SoMa neighborhood.

“People refer to us as the granddaddy of the neighborhood,” says 21st Amendment founder Nico Freccia.

Now, the company wants to build an 80,000-square-foot brewery – but property values are too high. The company has opened offices in the East Bay, and is scouting space there for the brewery, hoping to help revitalize an Oakland neighborhood.

This combination photo shows, left, a 1986 photo provided by the Harpoon Brewery of the brewery under construction and right, patrons sampling a variety of beers at the Beer Hall on July 1, 2013 in Boston. Harpoon Brewery opened on the South Boston waterfront in 1986, when it was surrounded by auto body shops and little else. Now the brewery draws more than 85,000 people a year from tours and tastings, and thousands more from festivals. Enlarge photo

Harpoon Brewery/Associated Press

This combination photo shows, left, a 1986 photo provided by the Harpoon Brewery of the brewery under construction and right, patrons sampling a variety of beers at the Beer Hall on July 1, 2013 in Boston. Harpoon Brewery opened on the South Boston waterfront in 1986, when it was surrounded by auto body shops and little else. Now the brewery draws more than 85,000 people a year from tours and tastings, and thousands more from festivals.

This combination photo shows, left, Nico Freccia, co-founder and chief operating officer of the 21st Amendment Brewery, posing for a photo at his bar in San Francisco, and a file photo of construction on the eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Amendment Brewery has opened offices in the East Bay, and is scouting space there for a 80,000-square-foot  brewery, hoping to “help anchor the revitalization” of an Oakland neighborhood. Enlarge photo

Associated Press file photo

This combination photo shows, left, Nico Freccia, co-founder and chief operating officer of the 21st Amendment Brewery, posing for a photo at his bar in San Francisco, and a file photo of construction on the eastern span of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge. Amendment Brewery has opened offices in the East Bay, and is scouting space there for a 80,000-square-foot brewery, hoping to “help anchor the revitalization” of an Oakland neighborhood.