How a craft brewery can transform a neighborhood

[pullquote]The transformational thing to me is, you’re driving home from work on a Wednesday night and there’s nothing that you see for 15 years. Then [Avondale Brewery] pops up and Saw’s is there, and you drive through and there’s literally foot traffic. There’s just street life that did not exist before.[/pullquote]

Just a few short years ago, the Avondale neighborhood in Birmingham was at about 25% occupancy. Most Birmingham residents knew it as a haven for crime, drug use, and prostitution. Teenagers in the surrounding suburbs weren’t allowed to even drive through there.

Now Avondale is a thriving destination and a growing commercial district. People and families are moving in. What happened?

Brothers Coby and Hunter Lake, home brewers and craft beer fans, bought a vacant building in Avondale and decided to build a brewery. On the verge of falling down after being vacant for more than 30 years, it took two years working with architect Scott Phillips to renovate.

Avondale Brewing Co, construction

Renovation of Avondale Brewing Co building

Avondale Brewing Co opened its doors on November 4, 2011. A newly-passed law allowed them to operate a tasting room and serve guests who came to the brewery. The community support was sudden and overwhelming as people flocked to the “bad part of town” to check out and sample locally-made beer.

Shortly after the brewery opened, the nearby Avondale Park re-opened following a $2.88 million renovation project by the city. Combined with Avondale Brewing Co as an anchor business, and the once-dilapidated neighborhood began to change quickly.

Renovated amphitheater in Avondale Park. (source)

Renovated amphitheater in Avondale Park. (source)

The brewery served as a magnet to bring the people to the neighborhood, which helped to encourage investment. Vacant housing and commercial buildings started filling up, and the area continues to improve today with new businesses and residents.

Not Unusual

Avondale’s revitalization is not a unique story in the craft beer industry, even in Alabama, although it is perhaps the most stark change in the state. Mayor William Bell of Birmingham in October 2012 recognized the role of craft breweries in revitalizing both the Avondale neighborhood and the Railroad Park area that is home to Good People Brewing Co.

Hunter and Coby Lake

Coby and Hunter Lake

Elsewhere in Alabama, the City of Huntsville is using craft breweries in its growth and revitalization plans. Straight to Ale and Yellowhammer Brewing are expanding into a new development at the abandoned Stone Middle School. This will transform the western gateway into downtown Huntsville from urban blight to a manufacturing center and entertainment destination.

A USA Today piece from 2013 examined how craft breweries helped transform neighborhoods in Cleveland, Brooklyn, and Boston. In fact, the biggest problems for the brewers in these cities seems to be that they have been so successful in revitalizing their locations that their rent is rising.

What’s Next

Avondale's Tasting Room

Avondale’s Tasting Room

The Lake brothers are committed to continuing the growth of the local community and encouraging new residents and new investment in the neighborhood. Their goal is to bring Avondale back to its glory days and old world charm of the late 1800s.

The brewery and its team work with organizations such as Rev Birmingham on areas of revitalization and business growth. It is also active in teaming up with local charities to raise money.

But above everything else, they are owners of a growing brewery and employers of approximately 30 people. Their team includes brewers, cellarmen and packaging specialists engaged in manufacturing, a sales and marketing team, office staff, and retail employees.

In the end, it’s all based on producing quality beer that the community can be proud of.