New Belgium Brewing officials visited Asheville last week to announce that they were planning to get construction on their new East Coast brewery here starting in November. The company is moving forward with a simplified, smaller brewery plan than the one they had first planned.
Earlier this year, New Belgium announced it was putting the brakes on its initial construction timeline after deconstructing all the buildings on the Craven Street site along the French Broad River. (An arson fire helped speed along the demise of one of the buildings.) The company had just brought on final additional capacity at its Fort Collins, Colo., brewery and officials said they were assessing additional needs. The company wasn’t expanding into other states as quickly as it had predicted, officials said. Some speculated that New Belgium’s sales were slowing.
The summer pause in construction at the Asheville site surprised the nearby neighbors, as well as the Asheville business and beer communities. Lots of folks began openly questioning New Belgium’s commitment to building a new brewery. Bryan Simpson, a company spokesman who has visited Asheville regularly since the company announced it was coming, admitted last week that he was taken aback by the depth of sudden distrust.
But after a summer of recalibrating, New Belgium officials said last week that they’re excited about getting back on track, adding that they never had any intention of abandoning an Asheville brewery building plan. I talked with Jim Spencer, New Belgium’s engineering chief, during a meet-and-greet for community residents at Westville Pub, who updated me on design and construction plans.
Spencer said the new brewery will have an ultimate capacity of 500,000 barrels a year, down from the 700,000 originally planned. Spencer said the brewery would have a smaller footprint on the Craven Street site. He said an outdoor amphitheater planned next to the public tasting center had been reworked into a simpler green space. There won’t be a rooftop restaurant/bar, a detail included in early announcements about the new brewery.
The smaller capacity will mean fewer truck trips to an from the brewery, a main concern of local residents. (You can read New Belgium truck route background here.) There are no details on exactly how many fewer truck trips will be required.
Engineers and designers tried several configurations to get the company’s warehouse/distribution center on the site at Craven Street, Spencer said, but they could not make it work. The company plans to announce the location of the distribution center by the end of the year. I’ve reported that early word is it will be located off Sardis Road.
Spencer said the company will have detailed 3-D models of the new Asheville brewery in coming months. The modeling will give residents a detailed look at exactly how the brewery will fit into the Craven Street site.
Jay Richardson, New Belgium’s manager for the Asheville site, said the company plans to hire about 50 people in 2015 in advance of the planned opening of the brewery in late 2015. The company plans to hire a total of about 140 employees when the brewery is at full capacity.
In the near term, site work (removal of concrete, stream restoration and the mitigation of a brownfield) will get going quickly and will require a close working relationship with the city of Asheville, which will be performing several key pieces of that work. After that, trucks will begin delivering tons of dirt that will raise the site about 8 to 10 feet to get it out of a floodplain.
Look for an official ground-breaking in Spring 2014, New Belgium officials said.