To Fight Blight, Cities Are Establishing Brewery Districts
For cities plagued with empty storefronts and run-down buildings, breweries, wineries and distilleries could be the key to reviving them. That is the thinking behind a new "microbrewery district" in North Miami Beach.
In 2011, the city of Oakland Park, Florida — a suburb of Fort Lauderdale whose main attraction for decades had been a collection of strip clubs — sought to reinvent itself. With the help of an economic development firm, it decided to rebrand as a culinary arts district, just as foodie culture and the craft beer movement were on the rise.
In 2013, the Funky Buddha Brewery, a small operation born in a tiny Boca Raton shopping plaza, moved to Oakland Park. The brewery was an instant hit, immediately drawing a packed house on nights and weekends. It soon grew to have 130 employees and began hosting an annual Oktoberfest celebration, a major attraction for the neighborhood.
Further south, the Community Redevelopment Agency for the city of North Miami Beach had been looking for concepts that would create jobs and increase property values. In 2015, a new CRA administrator, Patrick Brett, brought in the same firm that had worked with Oakland Park, Redevelopment Management Associates, which did a formal study on the market and feasibility.
By then, the craft beer industry had experienced double-digit growth for eight years straight and breweries had popped up in many South Florida cities. But RMA's study said that North Miami Beach remained in a "craft beer desert," and people in surrounding neighborhoods would likely patronize breweries if they set up shop.
RMA looked at other U.S. cities, including Visalia, California — which changed its ordinances to allow breweries without needing to have a restaurant attached. Tumwater, Washington, had likewise tweaked its ordinances and hosted beer events as a marketing boost.
Last year, the Miami-Dade county commission approved $500K in grant money that could be awarded to qualified breweries within North Miami Beach's CRA district, which is about 2 miles along a main drag, 163rd Street. This January, the city designated the CRA area a "brewery district" and appropriated another $250K for grants to microdistilleries. Also, a new legal opinion determined that while bars in the CRA needed a 500-foot separation from schools, companies like breweries, distilleries and wineries do not.
"It is far easier for those businesses to open a permitted use," Brett said. "Most cities have unfavorable zoning for microbreweries, so the business is forced to open in industrial/warehouse areas that lack street visibility."
North Miami Beach, he said, has several high-visibility commercial properties that would be ideal for such businesses, especially at the New North Town Center, a mixed-use development on almost 18 acres at 15780 West Dixie Highway.
Brett said the CRA board will consider the $500K microbrewery grant incentive package May 24, and the final grant package will likely be approved at the CRA board meeting June 28. After that, a grant application will be available and interested parties can apply for the grant money. Brett said that numerous businesses have contacted him already, but he does not want to name them until they formally apply.
“Craft breweries have been at the forefront of successful urban revitalization in cities across America,” North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo said when approving the district. “The people flock to them and they increase business for everyone around them.”
RMA Economic Development Coordinator Farrell Tiller said millennials like the combination of craft beer and trendy foods. People also like family-friendly atmosphere, and the idea of supporting a local business versus a chain.
"Brewpubs fit this model and will be the next phase of development," he said.
Tiller noted that in Canada, Montana, New Mexico and Texas, breweries operated as co-ops — owned collectively by members who share in profits — are gaining traction. Old department stores, warehouses, churches, fire stations and train stations are all ripe for being retrofitted as craft breweries, he said.
But because the rate of growth in the craft beer market has slowed — the industry grew 18% in 2014 but just 5% last year — he suggested that cities considering brewery zones should first do a comprehensive assessment of market feasibility, zoning laws and the availability of relevant space.