September 6, 2013 | Rob

As Published by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept 6th, 2013
Author: Tim Bryant

David Wolfe sees past the blank walls of an old brick warehouse to a light-filled brewery that represents the rapid expansion of his Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.

Wolfe is co-founder of Urban Chestnut, the fast-growing craft brewer that is expanding to the 80,000-square-foot building at 4465 Manchester Avenue.

With brewery partner Florian Kuplent, Wolfe is running the $10 million project to redo the former Renard Paper Co. warehouse as a brewery that will, potentially, provide two-year-old Urban Chestnut with the largest beer factory among the area’s craft brewers.

Urban Chestnut worked with Green Street, a Clayton-based developer, to find a building to renovate as a brewery. The beer maker says it has outgrown its brewhouse at 3229 Washington Avenue, which will remain open. That facility will produce 7,000 barrels this year, about double from a year ago.

The new brewery, located in the Grove entertainment area of the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, will have an annual capacity of about 15,000 barrels, with space to expand to 100,000 barrels.

Green Street bought the Renard building in March and is leasing it to Urban Chestnut.

This week, workers punched holes on the Manchester side of the building for five large windows that will provide views of brewing equipment inside the structure.

“We’ve got daylight,” Wolfe said as he viewed the progress. “Nice.”

Another wall section will come down entirely to produce a patio for about 80 people. A glass partition will separate the patio from rows of beer fermentation tanks.

Peder Hulse, a Green Street vice president, said the building’s oldest section went up in the 1920s as a paint distribution center that was remodeled in the 1940s. An addition in the 1980s and another in the early 1990s brought the building to its current size. Urban Chestnut will use the newest section to store and ship beer.

Aside from new lighting, a gift shop and company offices, the building’s interior will get only a slight makeover.

“We’re going to keep it pretty raw and industrial,” Wolfe said.

Despite its fast growth, Urban Chestnut has yet to crack the ranks of the top U.S. craft beer makers. Schlafly, at 21 the old man of St. Louis microbrews, ranked 44th in craft beer volume sales last year, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. Boulevard, of Kansas City, held the 14th spot.

“We’re still outside of the top 100,” said Wolfe, noting that Urban Chestnut is less than a tenth the size of Schlafly.

Still, Urban Chestnut is big in the St. Louis beer scene and is part of a golden age of craft brewing in many cities, including Denver, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Boston.

Wolfe and Kuplent said they were happy to find a suitable building in the Grove, home to a growing number of bars and restaurants.

“We definitely want to be part of the urban life,” Kuplent said.

The new Urban Chestnut brewery, set to open next spring with about 30 employees, will get a warm welcome in the Grove, said Chris Colizza, project coordinator for Mangrove Development, which does mixed-use ventures in the area.

“It’s going to activate a whole block that’s currently vacant,” he said. “It’s going to help the neighborhood immensely from a commercial aspect.”

Colizza, formerly a planner for Park Central Development, the 17th Ward’s development arm in the area, said the brewery will be the Grove’s “marquee” addition, along with a new coffeehouse and, perhaps, a music venue in the 4100 block of Manchester.

HBD Construction, the general contractor on the Urban Chestnut project, has its office 10 blocks west of the brewery site. Its president, Mike Perry, said the stretch of Manchester east of Kingshighway was plenty sketchy before it developed as the Grove.

“I just assumed this would always be a troubled area,” he said. “It’s great to see it coming back.”

Tim Bryant covers commercial real estate, development and other business stories for the Post-Dispatch. He blogs at Building Blocks, the Post-Dispatch development blog. 

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