Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Creating Something Out of an Abandoned Brewery District- IDA Conference Part 2

I had the opportunity to tour the long-vacant former Pabst Brewery today. As a loyal PBR drinker the opportunity made me nostalgic for my college days, but it also peaked my professional interest as a planner ruminating over what to do about our own long-vacant Heidelberg Brewery.
There are many similarities between the two development opportunities and I only hope that the City of Tacoma learns from Milwaukee’s near missteps and builds on the Brewery City’s successes.

The Pabst Brewery, which closed in 1996, sits on a 21-acre site adjacent to Interstate 43 and is minutes from downtown Milwaukee. The site includes 16 historic tax credit eligible buildings, 6 construction-ready parcels and two parking garages to be built by the Master Developer, Joseph Zilber, Chairman of Brewery Project LLC. Mr. Zilber, stepped forward to purchase the site after a previous entertainment-oriented redevelopment proposal fizzled. Through this project, Mr. Zilber envisions creating a new mixed use neighborhood rather than, as one of the project investors described the previous proposal, a passing retail fade.

The Brewery Project LLC is using historic tax credits and tax increment financing to rehabilitate the historic buildings, including the old boiler building, brewing laboratories and grain silo. The buildings will be renovated and sold to new owners looking to creating new retail, residential and offices uses on the site. Already the property houses the Blue Ribbon Loft Apartments and a development firm. Seventy-percent of the residential units are affordable to low income tenants and intended as live/work artists lofts. The University of Wisconsin has expressed interest in relocating and expanding their Public Health program in the old beer bottling building that was made famous in the opening scenes of the TV series Lavern and Shirley.

Highlighting environmental sustainability is an essential component of the project, which boasts an on-sight storm water management system and 90% construction waste recycling. The project is also reconnects long-vacated streets to the grid and incorporates porous street pavement to minimize water run off. For their efforts, the developers are being rewarded as contenders for LEED Platinum Certification upon project completion.

As an outsider to this massive project it looks to me like the developers and the City of Milwaukee are doing everything right. This is an exciting and inspirational project. The proximity of Tacoma’s own Brewery District to our downtown and the district’s historic buildings pose an equally exciting prospect, but we must learn from the Brewery City and NOT COMPROMISE. Tacoma is deserving of the best designed buildings that pay homage to our culture and history. We must not settle for the newest best offer that comes our way, but instead demand quality design and uses that compliment our community.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on. You are so correct in recognizing this is such a better way to go than some entertainment district as had been originally proposed. This is so much more organic with multiple developers coming in, residents living in the area, a mix of uses and so on. And from what I've seen the work so far has really been well done.

    I'd add Cardinal Stritch has opened their site in the Brewery as well..