The massive 35,000-square-foot building adjacent to the Lexington Avenue Brewery in downtown Asheville is getting a major overhaul, with a new taproom, restaurant, beer production facility, condos and stores likely to open by the end of the year, reports LAB co-owner Mike Healy.
The new taproom at 37 N. Lexington – tentatively being called the “LAB Annex” – will feature the same beers as its mother brewery, as well as some as–yet–unkown additional offerings, made possible by the new production space, he says. Healy and his business partner Steve Wilmans are also hoping to launch a canning line.
“The craft brewing industry right now is sort of exploding. And craft cans are exploding. Asheville Brewing is canning. And we’re diving in headfirst,” says Healy. “We won 11 awards last year for our beers. We’re constantly trying to make improvements. … People seem to like it, so we’re rolling with it.”
The 4,000 square-foot tasting room and restaurant will have a communal vibe, with Healy planning to build long cherry–topped Oktoberfest–style tables that groups of patrons can share. It will have a separate entrance, but a similar feel to that of its larger neighbor, with a similar awning and semi-outdoor area, he says. The idea for the food is to have a small menu of quick and tasty items that go well with beer, he adds.
“The latest plan is to run the kitchen down all the way to the front wall so that people can walk right up during their lunch break and snag a taco or bratwurst, something simple but really delicious, and keep going – like a really quick easy downtown lunch,” he explains.
They’re also considering including a small space for live music, suitable for singer-songwriters. But the venue is likely to have much shorter hours than its neighbor, with many details still being worked out, says Healy.
The demolition and construction process is already in progress, and Healy is hoping the new room will open for business by the end of the year.
“I never thought I’d be doing this, but we’re just going for it. The opportunity presented itself, and we are choosing to go that direction,” he notes. “We’re excited about it. .. It’ll be fun. It’s quite a challenge.”
As for the rest of the big building, three additional units of retail space are being built along Lexington just south of the taproom and two new units of retail are planned for the building’s backside along Rankin Avenue, according to Healy. Developers with Cleo River, LLC are also planning to add an additional two-floors to a section of the building to help make room for up to 15 condos, he reports. All of it is scheduled to be completed within a year, he says.
Meanwhile, developer John Lantzius is planning big changes for other parts of Lexington and Rankin avenues, including new restaurants, a courtyard and office space.
For Healy, all the new development is a sign that the downtown corridor is weathering the tough economic times better than other areas.
“I think Asheville is still booming,” he maintains. “People are still doing stuff, wanting to move in and setup shop. People love it here.”