Beer boom strains Petaluma
At first glance, the upper stretch of North McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma doesn’t look like Sonoma County’s newest must-see attraction.
The mostly nondescript blocks are lined on both sides with industrial buildings and office parks. Sidewalks end abruptly at certain portions and tractor-trailers cruise down the street at 40 mph, while many vehicles surpass that speed limit. This area could have been a perfect set location for “The Office” TV show, but certainly not for a growing tourist spot.
Yet, crowds continue to flock there given its prominence as a beer mecca, the home of three local breweries. The largest draw by far is Lagunitas Brewing Co., the nation’s No. 5 craft brewer, which has garnered international attention for its hoppy beers, the music that is played in the amphitheater, and its decidedly non-corporate ethos and renegade attitude of its founder and owner, Tony Magee.
Visitors come as a result of continuing national boom in craft beer, which pumped $170 million into the local economy in 2013, according the county’s Economic Development Board.
The strain created by Petaluma’s expanding beer industry has been evident for some time, but one major step is being taken to lessen some of the problems.
Lagunitas is undertaking an approximately $30 million renovation to make its headquarters easier to visit, improve its transportation hub and increase its annual production in Petaluma from 450,000 barrels to 750,000 barrels.
A new parking lot will be built on south side of its property, 10 new fermentation tanks will be added to help boost production, a new wastewater treatment plant will become fully operational and access will be improved to its taproom and trucks that enter the plant.
The upgrades may not resolve the traffic, and other lingering issues still exist. Right across the street, the much smaller Petaluma Hills Brewing Co. operates its own taproom as it looks to grow in the market. In addition, HenHouse Brewing Co. brews at the Petaluma Hills facility and is exploring its next steps.
And a block down on Scott Street, the owners of 101 North Brewing Co. have just applied to the city of Petaluma to open its own 44-customer tasting room, which is likely to be a hit given the company has made great inroads by landing distribution deals with Safeway and Costco and has garnered good publicity with its flagship Heroine IPA.
“Nobody wants to stay small. Everybody wants to grow their business,” Magee said of his nearby competitors. “There may be another brewery and maybe two or more.”
Need for a plan
Moments later, Magee touched on the crux of the issue facing the city: “What’s the plan?”
Increasingly, more people are asking that same question as the craft beer boom collides in a quarter-mile area that it was never originally planned for. In fact, that area was more known as the birthplace of tech startups in the 1990s when it picked up the moniker “Telecom Valley.”
“A lot of this happened organically,” said former Councilman Mike Harris. “I think we now need to step back and analyze this for the entire city.”
The transition from telecom into becoming more of a Suds Alley began when Magee moved his plant from Ross Street to McDowell in 1999. Lagunitas kept growing, first by taking over the Bibbero warehouse and office building to the north and then obtaining a long-term lease to the building to the south where the tenant, Abode Creek Wine Storage, has a sublease to remain through May 2016, according to planning documents.