State Grant Helps Brewery Move Into Old Steam
A major expansion is on tap at Railhouse Brewery, thanks to a $200,000 state grant that will enable the microbrewery to move from downtown Aberdeen to the historic steam plant building in Pinehurst.
The grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce’s 2011 Main Street Solutions Fund will help Railhouse renovate the 6,800-square-foot brick building that was constructed in 1895, the year the Tufts family opened Pinehurst Resort.
Village of Pinehurst officials hope the $1.1 million project serves as a catalyst to future development in the 19-acre area south of downtown known as NewCore.
“It fits perfectly with the vision of both our Comprehensive Long-Range Plan and the NewCore Master Plan,” Assistant Village Manager Natalie Dean said Tuesday. “It’s also a great reuse of a historic building. We are very, very excited to have this type of private investment going into NewCore.”
Mike Ratkowski, co-owner of Railhouse, said he and business partner Brian Evitts have secured public and private financing to fund the majority of the $1.1 million project.
“It’s a big risk, but we’re on the cusp, so it’s time to either go big or go home,” Ratkowski said. “We’re taking a leap of faith because our business is growing, and this space is too small. The old steam plant has so much character that complements our business and has the space we need to expand our operations.”
Dean said the village will spend $252,000 to begin construction of a road that will eventually connect Magnolia Road with Dundee Road and serve as the east-west connector in NewCore. The money will also pay for off-street angled parking, brick sidewalks, street lighting and landscaping.
“The road will initially end in a cul de sac,” she said. “Essentially, the road will follow the line of the old railroad bed. Back in the day, the trains used to pull up right in front of the steam plant to drop the coal to power the plant.”
Renovation Begins in Fall
The plant is included as a contributing structure in the village’s National Historic Landmark designation. As a result, the planned improvements to the building are required to meet the U.S. secretary of the interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the village’s local historic district standards.
Renovations are scheduled to begin this fall and be completed next spring.
“We look forward to working with Pinehurst to transform a vacant historic structure into something the community can be proud of,” Ratkowski said. “We liked being in Aberdeen. We would like to extend a big thank-you to the town of Aberdeen and our Aberdeen customers.
“We always want our customers to feel like they’re a part of the brewery, no matter how much we grow.”
Ratkowski said the new location will enable Railhouse to add food service, double beer production and add a bottling line. The building will contain a viewing platform overlooking the brewery and an outdoor patio, among other amenities.
“We’re going to have food that pairs well with beer, and we’re going to incorporate our beer in a lot of our recipes,” he said. “It will be a brew pub, but we’ll also have steaks and ribs.”
Ratkowski said the grant was the tipping point for moving forward with the project.
“This one makes it possible,” he said. “We’re seeking two other grants that will make it nicer if we get them. But even if we don’t, we’re still moving to Pinehurst.
“We’re thrilled to be the first to go into NewCore. What a great building to start with because it will go from being an eyesore to serving as a catalyst for positive growth.”
Dean said the amount of the grant was based on the number of new full-time positions — at $25,000 per position — added as a result of the project.
The Main Street Solutions Fund’s purpose is to provide economic development planning assistance and coordinated grant support to designated micropolitans located in Tier 2 and 3 counties and to active North Carolina Main Street communities. The village is considered a micropolitan by the state.
The grant program is intended to strengthen the local economy and its role as a regional growth and employment hub. That is accomplished by leveraging the state’s resources for small business development, spurring private investment, and providing economic development planning assistance and coordinated grant support.
“This project leverages state, local and private investment in a way that should serve as a model partnership to facilitate local economic development,” Dean said.
‘Provides an Anchor’
The expansion announcement comes on the heels of the naming of Railhouse as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Moore County Chamber of Commerce.
“Mike and Brian took a chance on downtown Aberdeen, and they’re leaving behind a great legacy,” said Patrick Coughlin, the Chamber’s president and CEO. “While I’m happy for Pinehurst and I think it’s great for NewCore, I’m sad for Aberdeen because they’re losing a great business and great businessmen.
“It’s somewhat of a bittersweet situation from the perspective of Railhouse Brewery’s contribution to the renaissance of downtown Aberdeen.”
Still, Coughlin believes that Ratkowski and Evitts have “opened the door” for other entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps.
“Without a doubt, you’ve got vibrant businesses surrounding their current location, so it creates a great opportunity for a new business to go into the space Railhouse is vacating,” Coughlin said. “At the same time, I think it’s preferable to reuse assets that are already there when you look at new development.
“So I think the steam plant presents a great opportunity because it’s really kind of a cool building that has been sitting there unoccupied for some time. I think Railhouse is going to provide an anchor in NewCore that other developers can hitch their boats to.”
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