The concept of a craft brewing center and education center in Tumwater has obvious appeal. The Tumwater community has authentic beer heritage, having been home for a century to the former Olympia Brewing Co.
Seeing that employer go away in 2003 was a hit to our community. But after the decline of corporate brewing, the South Sound community has seen a welcome growth in craft brewing.
Thurston County now supports a half-dozen craft operations. Another three craft breweries are on the way in 2016, according to Casey Sobol, operations manager for Top Rung Brewing Co., a Lacey-based brewer that hopes to expand its own operations this year.
That is partly why we welcome efforts by the city of Tumwater and South Puget Sound Community College to develop a partnership to develop a craft brewing and distilling education center along Capitol Boulevard.
Such a “center for excellence,” as backers call it, could bring together job training and research from the Washington State University in fermentation science to serve the state’s roughly 260 craft-brewing companies. It also would cater to craft distilleries.
Only the state of Oregon has more craft breweries, Tumwater city administrator John Doan says. One analysis done for Tumwater, which a state grant funded in 2015, suggests even a small-scale education and brewing center could spur 662 direct jobs.
In the best scenario, the center could be an incentive for brewers to open shop and redevelop former Olympia brewery property.
The missing ingredient is money. Tumwater and SPSCC want the state Legislature to authorize a grant of $3 million so that the city can purchase nearly 3.5 acres of a roughly 9 acre vacant parcel owned by South Sound Bank.
Lawmakers should give consideration to this request.
South Sound’s cities and the Thurston Chamber of Commerce have made the proposal one of a handful of shared legislative priorities for the Thurston County region. It also has backing of local legislators, including Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, and Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County.
The proposed site for the center is not far from the deteriorating buildings that once housed the Olympia brewing operation.
Developers with Cinnabar Growth Capital in in San Jose, California, have an option to buy it. The city has an option with Cinnabar that expires this spring.
So there is some urgency in moving forward with a funding mechanism.
SPSCC president Tim Stokes says the plan is to secure the land this year, then ask lawmakers for about $30 million next year to build the more than 29,000 square foot center. He said there already is work under way to convert an existing SPSCC building used by the former horticulture program for use in an initial brewing course.
The long-term goal is to work with WSU’s research arm and to develop courses that support craft brewing and craft distillery industries in this state. Training in how to run businesses is part of the plan.
Doan and Tumwater assistant administrator Heidi Behrends Cerniwey say Walla Walla’s experience with wine growing is a model for what they hope to accomplish. In a meeting last week with The Olympian Editorial Board, they said an education center at the community college leveraged research from WSU and helped spur not only growth in wine production statewide, but also restaurants and other food-related enterprises.
That’s a tough act to follow, but it is well worth our community’s time to explore.