Big changes are happening at a long-vacant building by the railroad tracks in downtown Anchorage near Ship Creek.
Coworking space the Boardroom just moved into the spot at 721 W. First Ave., and 49th State Brewing Co. is working on launching a new production facility there, just a few blocks from its Third Avenue restaurant.
The project is part of a broader mixed-use effort between developers and the Alaska Railroad called The Rail, aimed at drawing more people to the Ship Creek area. Construction on a condo development that’s also part of that effort started earlier this year.
The owners of 49th State Brewing Co. bought the building from the Alaska Railroad in August, looking to capitalize on opportunities in the state’s booming craft beer scene and its tourism industry. The new spot is tucked away on the road just west of the Alaska Railroad depot.
Right now, the brewery makes a lot of its beer at its location in Healy.
“It’s tough to meet the demand in how we’re currently utilizing it up there in Denali,” said Jason Motyka, one of the 49th State Brewing Co. owners. He’s working on the project with his business partners David McCarthy and Gary Klopfer.
“So the next phase was kind of getting a larger system that could help deal with the demand, keep the variety up," Motyka said.
The brewery’s restaurant, just up the hill from the new production spot, has been open for more than two years and will stay open. There are plans to eventually have a taproom at the new location, too, Motyka said.
The Boardroom — where people can pay for space to work — has been around for about five years, previously in offices on Fifth Avenue. It recently relocated, leasing about 8,000 square feet of space at the roughly 20,000-square-foot First Avenue site. CEO Katherine Jernstrom said she’d been looking around for a new location for more than a year, and their lease at the old building was up.
The Boardroom’s new office has a sleek startup feel. Members were working on their laptops at shared tables one recent afternoon, and an open kitchen space had a view out the window of containers stacked at the Port of Alaska, beyond the train tracks.
“Being down in Ship Creek on the railroad feels very — kind of raw, it feels very new to redevelop this space,” Jernstrom said. It’s also a draw to be co-located with another business like a brewery that brings more people to the spot, she said.
While the Boardroom is up and running, 49th State still has more work to do before production there starts. That will take from six months to another year, Motyka said. Right now, huge tanks for brewing are lying on their sides in the yard outside the building. Inside, the space that will eventually house those tanks is still something of a construction zone.
Oil field services company M-I SWACO used to occupy the building, but it has been largely vacant for the past two years or so, said Jim Kubitz, vice president of real estate and facilities at the railroad.
"It was really looking like it was doomed for a while,” said Bob Petersen, president of the Petersen Group, a developer involved in The Rail project. “These guys are resurrecting it.”
More changes are on the way, too. The railroad plans to spend roughly $2 million over the next several years on other work in the area, such as widening the road and connecting the property to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
“This is really kind of, I think, the start of something great down here in Ship Creek,” Motyka said.
Just up the hill, the coming condos that are part of the Downtown Edge project start at about $420,000.
The brewery business is leasing land from the railroad as part of the deal. There are also plans to change the name of the road the property is on, Kubitz said, to Depot Drive. It’s currently a private driveway that stems off of West First Avenue.
That change should happen in about a month or so, said Karleen Wilson, the city’s addressing official. Then the address will be 721 Depot Drive.
The parties involved hope that adding new destinations to Ship Creek will change the face of the whole area. Though the 49th State Brewing Co. and Boardroom property is set back from the main road, it’s also in a location that cruise ship passengers pass by regularly on the train.
"If there’s beer down here,” Petersen said, “they’ll find it.”