ULI Chicago News

How Craft Breweries are Driving Development

Last week ULI Chicago members gathered at The Plant, a former meatpacking facility in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, to experience first-hand how craft brewers are thriving in long-term disinvested neighborhoods and helping drive their revitalization. The Plant formed the perfect backdrop for this conversation – after sitting vacant for years and being marketed as a “strip and rip” building, i.e. a building likely best suited for stripping out any valuable building materials before being torn down, The Plant has been transformed into an incubator for food businesses focused on sustainable practices. A behind-the-scenes tour of the facility with John Edel, Founder/Director and Carolee Kokola, Director of Enterprise Operations, Bubbly Dynamics, LLC was followed by the panel discussion on craft breweries.

Ruth Wuorenma, President, Neighborhood Capital Institute, moderated an engaging discussion on the rising popularity of craft breweries, the opportunities and the challenges associated with starting a craft brewery and carving out a niche in an increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace, and potential impacts on the neighborhood. Our speakers, Danielle D’Alessandro, Executive Director, Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, Lesley Roth, Co-Founder/Owner, Englewood Brews and Brian Taylor, Master Brewer and Co-Founder, Whiner Beer shared their unique perspectives.

Danielle, in her role advising a range of craft breweries across the state, spoke about how craft breweries are shaped by the personality of the brewers and the local community: some breweries are designed to be family hang-outs where parents can play a board game with their kids while enjoying a great beer and others might have a completely different vibe. Regardless, the experience tends to be local and authentic, which adds to the appeal.

Lesley talked about the additional layers of complexity that she and her business partner grapple with daily to stay true to their mission of making Englewood Brews a neighborhood brewer –so when it opens its doors later this year, it can be a community focal point where neighbors can socialize over locally made beer and find gainful employment.

Brian shared how, even as industry veterans, it was a leap of faith to open Whiner Beer in The Plant, which was still in the early stages of transformation from a vacant building into a thriving incubator. However, being at The Plant has made it easier for Whiner to bring sustainable practices to the brewing industry and build synergistic relationships with other food businesses in the building. Whiner now has a steady, loyal customer base for its barrel-aged beer, and its tap room is full of “regulars” from the neighborhood and beyond.

If you weren’t able to attend our event, we recommend a trip to The Plant’s Farmers Market held the first Saturday of every month!

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