Commercial real estate spotlight: Canal Winchester brews with development

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Canal Winchester comes of age as a new craft brewery and brewpub signal the community's maturity.

The community of Canal Winchester has shown itself a strengthening powerhouse less than five years after making the jump from a village on the boundary of Franklin and Fairfield counties to a growing city. Businesses in the last year have become increasingly attracted to the community of roughly 7,500 as its industrial parks have lured several employers.

The spotlight shines brightest on Canal Winchester's landing of a $30 million US headquarters and brewing operation for Scotland-based BrewDog. The craft brewer last fall began the 100,000-square-foot first phase of its production and administrative facility off Gender Road on what had been a truck parking lot. It will welcome visitors to tour the facility and stop off for a pint in a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and bar.

"It's a great industrial employer with 125 jobs, and they have strong growth plans," says Lucas Haire, the city's development director. "We anticipate a lot of tourism and expect more spinoff development."

With the facility set for opening in mid-August, BrewDog anticipates it will produce more than 85,000 31-gallon barrels in its first year of production. Its capacity could reach more than 850,000 barrels in a few years as it seeks to open BrewDog pubs across the US.

The company says it has identified an as-yet specified location in Columbus' urban East Franklinton neighborhood. "We are looking to roll out bars all across the US," says BrewDog Special Projects Manager Keith Bennet. "Where better to place the first of these (than) in our new US home?"

The Columbus region's failure to land the Stone Brewing Co. project in the fall of 2014 actually encouraged BrewDog to consider central Ohio. "We did our research extensively," Bennet says. "Stone kindly introduced us to representatives of various states and communities, all of whom were ultra helpful."

Canal Winchester beat out Charleston, S.C. Bennet calls the region and city "very welcoming. We needed a space we liked with room to expand based on what we have done in Scotland." The Gender Road "site and the community won us over."

Haire credits the recent expansion of the capacity of the city's sanitary sewer system and Canal Winchester's own water system to landing the facility. "We're not beholden to other communities as to where we can serve and capacity," he says. "Brewers have significant need for water and sanitary sewer capacity," Haire adds, noting the 30,000 gallons of fresh water BrewDog will tap every production day. "The infrastructure was all in place."

The immediate availability of developable land also proved key. "They wanted 40 acres that was shovel-ready," Haire says, "so they could get started immediately. That limited the pool of (competing) sites immediately."

Kenny McDonald, chief economic officer for the region's Columbus 2020 job-promotion nonprofit, credits Canal Winchester for having identified food production facilities as a target for its economic development plan four years ago as it achieved industry accreditation of its community and specific sites for such facilities. "You can accelerate a project by months if you know as a community what you can offer businesses … They had no idea it would be a Scottish brewery."

McDonald says other sites in central Ohio also had hoped to get BrewDog in the wake of the October 2014 decision by California-based craft brewer Stone Brewing Co. to locate its first Eastern US facility in Richmond, Va., rather than an urban Columbus site. "Canal Winchester was the only one, on Day One, who knew how they could serve it."

Smaller suds set for Downtown

The BrewDog brewery and beer hall will not have a monopoly as the only place where suds will get made and served in Canal Winchester.

Harvest Moon Craft Kitchen in the quaint town center had already begun formulating a recipe for a craft beer production site and tap room in a historic remnant of an electric commuter rail power station before BrewDog announced its plans.

Harvest Moon owners Nathan and Kelley Doerfler have joined with partners Jonathan Woodruff and Dennis Smalley to open the Loose Rail Brewing Company in the long-vacant property at 37 W. Waterloo St.

Woodruff says he expects the tap room to offer about five "core beers," a couple of seasonal or specialty brews and smaller batch "experimental" beers after the Loose Rail opens as early as June.

"Columbus is just blowing up in the craft beer scene," says Woodruff, who has managed the Harvest Moon bar, of customers' thirst for something different. "People are just constantly experimenting with beers. They have a passion for quality beers; there's a big pull for it in this town."

The initial focus will be on the tap room's house beers. "It's going to be quite the adventure."

Karen Stiles, executive director of Destination Canal Winchester, says she expects both BrewDog and Loose Rail operations to attract beer aficionados from far and wide. "The two together will bring into Canal Winchester people who might never have ventured into Canal Winchester before. They'll come and see what all we have to offer."

Foundation for more growth

Canal Winchester has seen a steady stream of solid economic success stories leading up to BrewDog's decision as the city shook off the recession.

Buckeye Power Sales announced last year its decision to build a facility on Howe Industrial Parkway as part of a $1.6 million investment for the seller of construction equipment and backup electric generators.

Capsa Solutions, a producer of automated pill dispensing equipment and other high-tech carts for the healthcare industry, also moved its Columbus operations and 100 or so jobs from Hilton Corporate Drive to the Canal Pointe Industry & Commerce Park. The industrial park also saw a $3.3 million expansion of metal fabricator Maniford & Phalor, which expects to add 25 jobs atop a base of 45.

The then-village experienced growth through much of the early 2000s, both business as well as housing. But the recession stopped that. "There wasn't a whole lot happening in Canal Winchester, or the Columbus area. People weren't willing to take a risk," Haire recalls.

The city used the pause in economic growth to review and revamp its zoning code and processes, Haire says, and solidify its reputation as a business-friendly place to locate and expand. It also has worked to enhance its profile within the region, something the BrewDog facility will do as well.

"It's about getting people to understand the market," he says, an issue the communities along the northern arc of Interstate 270 don't have. "It's letting people know we're here."

Brian Ball is a freelance writer.