Bringing new life to brewery is key to Tumwater’s future

Without a doubt, the City of Tumwater is the most focused jurisdiction in South Sound. The object of that focus – the dilapidated former Olympia Brewery Co. property – will continue to get the city’s full attention until some visionary developer restarts the former heartbeat of Tumwater.

That should be reassuring to everyone in the region, and especially Tumwater residents, because, as City Manager John Doan puts it, the brewery “is the big pin in Tumwater’s balloon.”

Revitalizing the sprawling 175-acre complex abandoned by the Miller Brewing Co. almost a decade ago is not just an important challenge for the city. It’s “the most important thing in Tumwater,” according to Doan and Mayor Pete Kmet.

Like it or not, the brewery is Tumwater’s brand. It’s what the city is known for both locally and beyond the region. The once-iconic brewery and its Olympia logo stood proud and obvious to the millions of people who drove by on Interstate 5.

Tumwater officials are fully aware that the city’s identity and, to a certain extent, its economic future depend on turning this derelict site into something with positive energy behind it.

The city cannot develop the property itself, of course. It will require investors with a vision and a realistic price from its complicated ownership structure, led by Capital Salvage Inc. of California.

Recent ownership changes indicate the situation is starting to sort itself out.

Developer George Heidgerken of Centralia purchased the historic brewhouse at the base of Tumwater Falls and a warehouse on Custer Street. The LOTT Clean Water Alliance bought 36 acres in the valley area for a future treatment plant. And the main buildings on five parcels have just recently been put on the market for $11.9 million.

For its part, the city is laying the groundwork that will make the property attractive to an eventual buyer. Officials are addressing how the property is regulated under the city’s comprehensive plan and making investments in utility and transportation improvements around the brewery site.

Following on the heels of last year’s community visioning process for the site, and the hiring of Michael Matthias as a project manager for the redevelopment efforts, the city now plans to take the next step by involving the surrounding neighborhood.

The public will be asked this fall to imagine the 800,000-square-foot brewery property turning into “something,” and then creating a complementing vision for the neighboring properties.

A properly developed brewery neighborhood could add considerable charm to the areas around the Safeway triangle area, especially if the street could become more pedestrian-friendly and some type of mixed use ultimately occurs at the brewery.

It is a frustrating and slow process because the size of the site, the recession and the many layers of ownership limit progress to painfully small steps. Most people see the potential of the site and feel excitement about what it could become, and want it to happen quickly.

To its credit, the Tumwater City Council is taking responsibility for creating the vision and establishing land-use regulations to support that vision.