(Photo by Anne Fitten Glenn. Videos by Jake Frankel)
The rumors were true. New Belgium Brewing Company has chosen Asheville to be the home of their second brewery and distribution center.
At a press conference today at Asheville's Chamber of Commerce, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Kim Jordan, New Belgium’s CEO and co-founder, announced to a crowd of officials, media and exuberant beer lovers that the company will build a brewery on the site of the former Western Carolina Livestock Market on Craven Street near downtown. The brewery will invest more than $175 million over seven years and create more than 150 new jobs.
Watch Jordan speak about the decision (video produced by New Belgium):
“We picked you, we picked Asheville,” Jordan said, as she toasted those gathered under a large tent during a torrential rainstorm. She joked about the rain and said that the first time she and her team met with City of Asheville representatives, they “riffed on storm water management, and we felt like we’d met kindred spirits.”
Less than a month ago, Asheville City Council rezoned the site next to the French Broad River from Urban Village back to a less restrictive River District designation. The almost 20-acre site is a designated brown field, and, thus will need to be revitalized.
Watch Jordan speak at the announcement:
New Belgium plans to break ground in early 2013 and begin production in 2015. While hiring won’t start until the end of 2014, the average annual employee salary will exceed $50,000. In addition, new construction will support hundreds of local jobs and the brewery ultimately will support many indirect jobs including vendors and suppliers. Company officials expect to generate $18.3 million annually in new labor income for Asheville families. A $1 million grant from the state's One North Carolina Fund helped lure the company to the region. That grant is based on the company creating 130 jobs and investing $115 million over five years.
“I've been hearing about and watching that space across the river for about six months. New Belgium seems like a great company, and we will love having them as neighbors. I'm looking forward to drinking their beer fresh,” says Ben Mixson, co-owner of White Duck Taco, located on Roberts Street.
The Fort Collins-based brewery announced last month that they’d narrowed their choice of locale to either Philadelphia or Asheville. New Belgium is the third largest craft brewery in the U.S., after Boston Beer Co. and Sierra Nevada Brewing, based on volume of beer sales. In January, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company chose the town of Mills River as the site for their second brewery.
Watch N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue speak at the announcement:
The New Belgium site was selected because of Asheville’s proximity to East Coast markets, water quality and community commitment to sustainability. The company gave 22-ounce bottles of their well-known Fat Tire Ale to attendees at the announcement with a special tag attached. The tag's "location checklist" lists respect for the environment, a love of beer, and a strong community as a few reasons for choosing Asheville.
“The Brewers Alliance welcomes New Belgium. They’ll be a great economic asset and should bring in an influx of beer tourists,” says Tim Schaller, president of the ABA and Wedge Brewing owner. “Our responsibility as brewers now is to make great beer and continue to educate people about our beer, as we’ve been doing with our Beer 101 class.”
[Full disclosure: Anne Fitten Glenn teaches Beer 101 for the Asheville Brewers Alliance].
Schaller ended the afternoon's festivities with a toast and a “Howdy, neighbor,” to Jordan.
Jordan emphasized the company’s commitment to working with the local brewers in “a spirit of collaboration” and “sharing our groovy toys” — a reference to the research and development equipment that the brewery owns.
“We are thrilled to have another incredible craft brewery move into the neighborhood. New Belgium has handled their site selection very well and have done a lot to reach out to the Asheville Brewers Alliance and kept us informed during the process,” says Mike Rangel, President of Asheville Brewing Company.
Watch Buncombe Commission Chair David Gantt speak at the announcement:
Jordan also says the company will work with the City and the County on public infrastructure improvements in the River Arts District to roads, sideways, bike lanes, greenways and water management consistent with the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Plan.
“My hope is that they will be a great new big brother to the District,” says Pattiy Torno, owner of Curve Studios and ashevilleRAD.com. Torno also serves as a commissioner for the Asheville Area Riverfront Redevelopment Commission, and she notes that having New Belgium revitalize part of the riverfront is part of the commission’s plan for the area.
Schaller adds: “I opened my business in the River Arts District because it’s funky and affordable for artists. I hope we can preserve this area and keep growing it as an arts district.”
Torno also notes that artists own a lot of the buildings that offer studio space in the RAD, “So we control the rent, and we get it. The city and the county have to realize that one of the reasons New Belgium chose this area is because of the River Arts District.”
“Something like this that can be an anchor for the community could be glorious,” says Howard Hanger, who has lived in a cooperative home in the Chicken Hill community above the river since 1973. “This area was so depressed when I moved here, but there’s been huge change and evolution.”
Watch Asheville brewers welcome Jordan and New Belgium to town at the announcement:
In November, Gov. Perdue signed a law that allows all breweries, regardless of size, to allow beer sales and tastings on site. Previously, the law stated that only breweries that produced less than 25,000 barrels of beer per year could do so. But the change helped pave the way for Sierra Nevada and New Belgium to open tasting rooms and sell their beers, even the ones that aren’t brewed in North Carolina, from their new facilities.
"JFK said that victory has a thousand fathers, and that's definitely true of the teamwork it took to form this successful relationship with New Belgium. The leaders of New Belgium and economic development leaders from the city, county, N.C. Department of Commerce, and governor's office worked together to make this amazing opportunity come to Asheville,” says Gordon Smith, Asheville City Council member.
New Belgium opened for business in 1991. Some of its better-known beers are Fat Tire and Ranger IPA, which are currently distributed in 28 states plus Washington, D.C. The company is 41 percent employee-owned.