Beer could fuel local growth


Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 4:53 p.m.

Forget Austin.

I'm tired of hearing of how Gainesville should model itself on the Texas capital. Let's emulate Asheville instead.

Sure, Austin is a high-tech center and Asheville doesn't produce much other than ... beer. It's not as lucrative of an undertaking, but Gainesville has a home-grown beer culture that is ripe for growth.

I vacationed last week in western North Carolina for the first time. Asheville was a revelation. At least 11 craft breweries are located there, part of a thriving cultural and culinary scene.

In the city's River Arts District, a former industrial section, there are now art studios and other funky businesses including a brewing company and a BBQ joint that counts President Obama as a repeat customer.

Seeing the way those businesses reclaimed industrial space made me think of Gainesville's aspirations for the Power District. Right now there's not much to do in the area south of downtown, but the opening of Depot Park and the Cade Museum should transform the area.

Interesting businesses have already opened nearby, including the Civic Media Center, Citizens Co-op and a recently relocated Wild Iris Books. The city shouldn't mess it up by moving the downtown fire station to a spot that displaces other businesses.

The area could really use a craft brewery. The owner of Ridgway Roof Truss Co., Wells The Losen; his wife, Meg; and two other partners are hard at work to make that a reality.

The partners plan to open the First Magnitude Brewing Co. — the name a nod to area springs — next May on the portion of the truss company's South Main Street location next to the park and Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail extension.

They plan for a tasting room, outdoor beer garden and brewery that will produce kegs and eventually cans of beer. A blonde, pale ale and porter are going to be their mainstays.

Meg The Losen — yes, that's their real name — said the museum, park and trail present the opportunity for the area to develop more than just industrial uses.

“We're hoping to really be part of that transformation,” she said.

While the number of downtown bars serving craft beers has proliferated in recent years, just Tall Paul's, with its Alligator Brewing Company, makes its own beer. Gainesville's other craft brewer, Swamp Head, is located in a nondescript industrial park behind Target. Yet people flock there to visit its tasting room.

The brewery's growth means it has pretty much reached its limit in that location. An overpass planned to start in the Celebration Pointe development and land right around the industrial park's location will force the issue.

So would Swamp Head move downtown or an area like the Power District? Dan Wade, co-head brewer there, said its customers like the west Gainesville location, but there's been talk of opening a new brewery with a separate tasting room elsewhere.

Gainesville has things going for it that Asheville lacks, like a massive research university. Innovation Square should provide plenty of opportunity for people in high-tech fields.

But those folks and the rest of us need something to do after work, so it would be nice to see the local cultural and culinary scene really thrive. Beer could help fuel that growth.

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