My Open Letter to Surly


Mr. Surly,

As a faithful drinker of your wonderful beer, I am so excited at the prospect of the new two-story, 60,000 square-foot building with a roof deck beer garden, restaurant and a 30-foot bar you have proposed to build. The notion of an extra 100,000 barrels of beer per year might just mean that I no longer have to search for those last remaining bottles of Smoke or Darkness.

As a Minnesotan, I’m pleased by the prospect of 85 new construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs once the brewery and events center are in full operation. We all thank you for the potential job growth, and stand with you in your attempts to change a Minnesota statute preventing the brewery from selling beer on site.

As a preservationist, I have one request. Rather than moving into a new building, consider taking advantage of the surplus of former industrial and brewery complexes throughout the Twin Cities. Such a move could allow you to take advantage of the State Historic Preservation Tax Credit (and Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit as well); saving you up to 40% on rehabilitation expenses for the project. Likely this will make the project even more feasible than new construction. In addition to the cost savings, you could bring much needed revitalization to urban communities, creating a true “destination brewery”.

Just a few places to consider:

Schmidt Brewery, Saint Paul
Location: 882 7th St. West, Saint Paul, MN 55102

The Jacob Schmidt Brewery covers 15 acres and is the anchor of the West End neighborhood of Saint Paul. With its crenellated towers, Gothic details, and basement rathskeller, Schmidt’s main brewhouse is a superb example of turn-of-the-century German breweries in the U.S. and likely the largest and most intact design by Chicago architect Bernard Barthel. Other buildings in the brewery complex designed by other architects were added over time,

Beer was brewed at the plant, under various owners, until 2002. The complex housed an ethanol plant until 2004. A recent plan for the property, called Brewtown, was to be developed in collaboration with the West 7th/ Fort Road Federation and private investors. This plan for a mixed-use complex of artist lofts, apartments and condos, retail, office, and entertainment space, fell victim to funding constraints. The brewery’s owner is working with the local community and city officials to develop an alternate plan, but redevelopment may be difficult in the current economic climate.

Rehabilitation of the enormous Schmidt Brewery complex would be a catalytic development for Saint Paul. There have been numerous proposed development plans for the property, including one currently in planning stages between Dominium and the West 7th/Fort Road Federation. There should be enough room for Surly in the development plans.

Former 3M site

Location: Bounded by E 7th Street, Arcade Street and Phalen Boulevard, Saint Paul

It’s not every day that you have the opportunity to buy a building for $1. But that’s exactly what we have at the former 3m plant in Saint Paul. The Saint Paul Port Authority now owns 12 acres and 542,620 square feet of existing space for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. This area is the centerpiece of a 61-acre Port Authority development. A purchaser of one of the historic buildings on the campus may be eligible for state and federal historic tax credits in addition to a number of other funding sources from the local, state and national levels.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create something NEW from something historic, and to integrate the legacy of this location while building a new economic vitality for Saint Paul, Minnesota and the Midwest. The Beacon Bluff site has 5 unique buildings totaling 542,620 square feet of existing structures for potential re-use.

  • Building 1 – 67,740 sf, 4 floors
  • Building 14 – 103,190 sf, 5 floors
  • Building 20 – 295,240 sf, 8 floors
  • Building 21 – 76,450 sf, 3 floors
  • Building 24 – 209,740 sf, 2 floors

While many structures have been demolished, a number of historic buildings, particularly 3M’s first laboratory building (Building 1) and their former global headquarters (Building 21), remain. Additional Historic Tax credit incentives are available to buyers moving into these buildings.

After years of hard work the State Historic Preservation Tax Credit finally passed the Minnesota legislature in 2010. These sites are significant pieces of our community, it would be a shame to allow them to sit vacant any longer. A project like this is a prime example of the potential benefits of the program, creating an opportunity for private reinvestment into our built environment, returning between $4 and $8 for every $1 in credits. This could be a major coup for Surly and the state of Minnesota. You wouldn’t be the first brewery to do this, but I think you could do it the best.

Plus, look at how successful 3m was in Dayton’s Bluff; image what Surly could do there!




Will O’Keefe

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