On Thursday, November 12, the Discovery Series of the ULI Colorado Young Leaders Group presented “Craft Urbanism 101.” The event explored the Colorado craft brewery industry—which has outgrown its former “microbrewing” tag–and how it connects to neighborhood and community development. The event, appropriately, was presented on the warehouse floor of the new Great Divide in Denver’s River North (RiNo) neighborhood.
Patricia Calhoun, Editor-in-Chief of Westword, moderated the event. Ms. Calhoun began with a story of attending the opening of the Wynkoop Brewery in 1988, where the brewery offered free beer to press. Needless to say, opening day was a smash. Wynkoop later named Patty’s Chili Beer for her. She introduced speakers Steve Kurowski with the Colorado Brewers Guild, Bill Holicky of Coburn Partners, Bryan Slekes of Great Divide, Todd M. Thibault of Breckenridge Brewery, and Jenn Vervier of New Belgium.
Steve Kurowski started with an introduction to the Colorado Craft Brewers market. Breweries have been in Colorado since 1875 with 56 initial breweries. Only eight survived Prohibition, but in the late 1980s, craft brewing started to grow. Today, it seems every town wants a brewery to bring people in and revitalize neighborhoods. Even Erie, a historic mining town/suburb with a population of less than 25,000, has two breweries and one cidery. A 2014 Guild impact study showed that the craft brewery market is a $1.15 billion industry and growing.
With the growth of craft brewers comes the development of new facilities. Bill Holicky, Design Principal at Coburn Partners, has been part of the design process for new facilities for the three brewers speaking at the event, among others. Mr. Holicky said the best craft breweries reflect the neighborhoods they come from. Each building/campus is distinctly different from another, though the various facilities like manufacturing or offices or a restaurant might be similar. Mr. Holicky presented four cases studies of breweries he worked on: Breckenridge Brewery, Avery, Great Divide, and New Belgium.
Mr. Holicky said the craft brewing industry provides an important social function. It is bringing back the “third place” corner-bar-style gathering spot to many more neighborhoods.
Bryan Slekes, Special Projects Manager of Great Divide, spoke next about the new River North facility on Brighton Boulevard. Great Divide has another facility in Denver nearby on Arapahoe, where they have been for 21 years and plan to stay. But that space was becoming too small for their growing needs. The search for a second facility was born and in 2013 they found RiNo to provide space for packaging, manufacturing, and a tap room.
Todd M. Thibault, Director of Marketing at Breckenridge Brewery, spoke next. Breckenridge Brewery recently opened a new campus in Littleton, which includes offices, the brewery and a “farmhouse” restaurant right on the South Platte River. Getting too big for its old location, the brewery was looking at a move or a second facility. After much thought, the decision was made to create a larger campus instead of leaving the state. They are a Colorado brewery and did not want to change that, so they created the Littleton campus. Customer response has been almost overwhelming. With this new destination, Littleton’s “Littlefun” reputation is thankfully on the decline.
Jenn Vervier, Sustainability Director at New Belgium, was the final speaker of the evening. Ms. Vervier discussed the founding of New Belgium and subsequent growth. After getting too big for their Fort Collins campus, they decided to build a second campus with closer access to East Coast markets. After research into the most sustainable site selection, they found the perfect site in Asheville, North Carolina. New Belgium will be part of the new Source Hotel in the RiNo with a 10-barrel brewery and bar called The Woods.
A question and answer session followed the speakers where questions ranged from discussing gluten-free beer to whether Colorado should bring alcohol into grocery stores, giving the panel easy and challenging concepts to discuss.
The event wrapped up with beers from Great Divide and tours of the new Great Divide facility. Networking continued in the Great Divide Barrel Bar. The event was attended by 100+ members and non-members of ULI and gave people insight into a significant industry in Colorado. As the Colorado Brewers Guild is hoping, perhaps someday soon, Craft beer will be to Colorado what oranges are to Florida.
Jenni Lantz, ULI Colorado guest blogger
Consultant with John Burns Real Estate Consulting