The Brewery

One thing I really love about the City of West Bend is that those from the area take a lot of pride in our community. Not only that, a lot of pride is taken in the hard work to get where we are at today.  It is with that attitude ownership is also taken.  We all feel a sense of responsibility to preserve the great things our ancestors have done.  Everything from the established strong work ethic they passed down to the structures erected to grow our local economy, we all take pride and ownership within this great community.

With that being said, let’s talk the Brewery and yes, it is proper noun worthy.  If you don’t know which brewery I am talking about it is perfectly understandable, the building itself holds no historical designation and it is quite unassuming.  It’s not often a giant building with a smoke stack that looms over the north entrance to downtown, like the Eye of Sauron, is described as unassuming.  If you still don’t know what building I am talking about or the Eye reference, it is the old West Bend Brewing Co. later Lithia Beer Co. located on the NE corner of W. Washington St. and S. 7th Avenue, and the bad guy from Lord of the Rings.

Brewery 3rd Story View
The Watchful Eye on Downtown


So why focus on the Brewery?  Well… in late 2017, it became public that a developer wanted to buy the building and put up a large apartment complex.  Later on, the developer dropped out with little to no explanation. I want to talk about what happened and what we learned.  In the meantime, maybe we’ll find new topics to write on in the future, because some of what we learned and what was involved can be its own subject matter.  Don’t panic, I will insert some pictures here and there to keep everyone engaged.

Here is what was proposed, the developer wanted to knock down the building which is assessed at close to $500,000 in value.  That only means the City can tax that amount, it doesn’t mean that if I gave you the choice to own a Harley Davidson Street Glide and the Brewery you would just say you would take the Brewery.  It’s all about what you can do with what you purchase.  Also, I felt if I made a Lord of the Rings reference earlier, I should try to seem cool with a Harley reference.  Back to knocking the building down, then he would put up a $14 million structure (the apartment complex), which if you are following along, we as a City can get quite a few more tax dollars from that.

Yes, history is neat, but also expensive.  To keep the current structure and only update everything that exists is not financially possible.  Yes, it would be great and we all love the idea of restoring our history, but millions of dollars would be put in to the project and money could not be made back to make it worth the investment.  Is there a way to fix up the building and add a few aspects to make it more financially viable?  Maybe, but doubtful.  That is a huge undertaking that we as a community cannot expect out of ownership.  So maybe that pride I liked so much earlier can also get in our way (myself included, we are in this together).  Also, the value of the property will not reach anywhere near what it could reach if we don’t let developers do what they do best and that is taking a property and unleashing its potential.

What is the undertaking that is so difficult?  Great question.  Think of the brewery as a piece of candy.  Early on it was nice and small serving its purpose.  Then the Brewery kept growing and they had to keep adding pieces.  Awesome, who doesn’t like more candy?  Well those pieces were for the “now” and “now” was late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  Those additions didn’t happen all at once and let’s not forget we have to wrap that candy.  What you see now is the wrapper.  When we look at the main structure, we are not even looking at what was the true history of the building.

GobstopperBlue RoomBaseball - BreweryBacks of Buildings - Brewery

All of those pieces we added over time, they were added to random rooms with the brewery operation flowing through the building.  This means no hallways exist, and even more important it means that all additions are on different levels.  No I don’t mean 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floors that means any room connected to another could have 2, 3, 4, etc… steps to get to the next room.  From a development standpoint, you can’t piece that together to make money because it doesn’t have a common space or way to navigate to your particular section of the building.  One basic rule of creating candy, you can’t just take everything and mash it together.  Some thought has to go in to planning, peanut butter goes with chocolate or caramel goes with nougat.  We can’t expect to make Snickers if chocolate and caramel have been removed from the original recipe.  I may have officially worn out the candy reference, even I’m not sure how this applies anymore.  Let’s try a new one…

Big Hole - Brewery
The best hallway in the building – also a giant hole

In baseball, sometimes you have to get an out to advance a runner and score runs.  Say your pitcher is up to bat and you have a runner on 2nd.  Well, we have that here.  We can’t hope to get lucky and the smart money is on bunting.  Move the runner over and score big in the future.  What was our big score with redeveloping the Brewery?  Main St.!  But to get that run we may have to get rid of some history that so many can be attached to.  The bunt.

What the City could have done was create a tax increment financing (TIF) district around the Brewery project and then borrow funds against future development to redo our downtown Main St. roads and sidewalks.  (Looks like we found a great topic for the future, TIF)  All is not lost, many great minds see the value in the property and location.  They also see the value in the City of West Bend as a whole.  Good things are to come with our Downtown (another topic) and the Brewery is one of the next logical large scale project for development in the area.  Encourage those willing to step up and put their money where their mouth is on these projects.  This isn’t easy for anyone to take on, the least we can do is provide positive support in any way possible.

Brewery Second Story View
2nd Story View


So what happened?  A developer saw the potential but got busy with other projects.  It may just be that simple.  What did we learn?  A lot of potential exists in the area and it could have an impact on not just the Brewery site, but also on the entire downtown.  Be encouraged for what is to come, no sense in dwelling on the past.  Support is what we should be providing as government officials and members of a great community, but that is not all.  Take a minute to understand.  You have my contact info, call or e-mail me.  If something doesn’t make sense I can help you get to a better place of understanding.  Feedback from the community is great and that is how we make the best possible decisions for the City of West Bend.

Stay tuned for future topics… TIF Districts, Downtown, Roads, and of course Fleet Farm and Olive Garden!


Author: Adam Gitter

Economic Development Manager with the City of West Bend

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