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Brewpub, possibly with theater/live music, proposed for... a church in Trinity Park?

Residents turned out in large numbers for last night's Trinity Park Neighborhood Association meeting, primarily it seems to hear more about this year's particularly brutal tree-pruning cycle in the 'hood. (Hey, it's Trinity Park. You don't mess with this neighborhood's street canopy.)

Church1 But first, they ended up hearing an intriguing proposal from local beer-crafter Sean Wilson to transform the Trinity Community Church at the corner of Lamond and Gregson -- on the very border between the neighborhood and the Brightleaf district just a couple of blocks down.

Wilson, a Duke grad, current Chatham County resident, and fifteen-year resident of the Triangle, gained some notoriety a couple of years back as one of the leaders behind the Pop the Cap movement, which succeeded in raising North Carolina's alcohol-by-volume limit on beer in the state from a blue-law-loving 6% to a more tolerable 15%, opening up our good state to the world of many gourmet brews. (Learn more at the Pop the Cap web site, or this Indy Weekly article.)

And this may not be Wilson's only foray into transitioning from advocating for good beer to selling it. He apparently controls the web domain www.bigbrewery.com, which in some web skullduggery looks linked to a similar brew-pub/dining venture down in his home county of Chatham.

But back to Durham here. Wilson noted that the church has been on the market for some time, with little success in the current pastor finding another congregation to take over the beautiful house of worship across from the Durham School of the Arts. Wilson noted that there had been some interest from other developers in transforming the approximately 5,000 sq. ft. church into residential units (an adaptive re-use that's common in some larger cities), and claimed his desired re-use was advantageous since it would preserve the sanctuary relatively intact in case the facility ever converted back to worship use in future years.

Wilson proposes a seven-barrel brewery for on-premises consumption only (as opposed to a brew plant like Holly Springs' Carolina Brewery, which would require an industrial zoning.) The remainder of the concept, however, is still open to some interpretation. Wilson noted he was considering a restaurant concept around a Belgian or farmhouse theme, both of which would go well with both the church architecture and your favorite beer. Intriguingly, a second possibility would be to de-emphasize the dining and turn it into a brewpub-theater that could show classic or arthouse films or host music performances. Even with the entertainment possibilities, Wilson projects closing at 10pm on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Church2 Besides the gorgeous edifice looking out over Gregson St., the church extends for several lots along Lamond, all the way to the corner of Lamond and Albemarle. It's hear that the plot thickens in new ways. Due to asbestos issues and a less flexible architecture, Wilson and his team are contemplating tear-down of the 1950s/1970s classroom building at the rear of the sanctuary, which in theory seems to me would provide ample parking (when combined with the rest of the property, which is currently an open surface lot that could hold 76 cars alone) for a popular brew-pub.

The rub is, Wilson's considering developing (or selling for development) that open land for condominiums or townhouses.  Given the current and ongoing matter of the Chancellory at Trinity Park project just a couple of blocks down Lamond, that idea seemed to elicit the kind of reaction you might expect from the assembled crowd.) 

To move forward with this project, however, Wilson and his partners will have to go through a zoning change for the property. Wilson has proposed a CN -- Commercial Neighborhood -- designation for the church, which would allow limited-scope commercial activity intended to blend with residential areas.

Does this seem an idea likely to get broad community support? I suspect that most folks wouldn't object to the idea of a one-time church becoming a brewery -- after all, people who choose to live in Trinity Park and our fellow urban neighborhoods tend to lean towards the progressive side of life, while honoring old architecture at the same time. I think the bigger question is, will this church on this lot be an appropriate place for this little expression of modernity?

A big problem with the location is accessibility. It's a short walk from Brightleaf Square and is just steps from Morgan Street, but if you're driving, you can't drive north on Gregson -- which means more traffic on Albemarle and Lamond, or on Duke and Trinity to do the big 'round the block. Given the tumult over having an extended-stay hotel and a condo project only blocks away from this site, any developer is going to be walking through a pit of fire in trying to make changes to this property.

At the same time, noise seems likely to be a big question from neighbors. A brewery and restaurant adds its own set of noise; a theater screen, and especially music performances, would add an entirely different category.

Personally, I'd love to see something like this in the Brightleaf/downtown area -- Durham's the land of fine dining, but stands far short of having the kind of entertainment activities you'd expect to go with it. The devil's in the details, as they say, and I for one would like to see a thoughtful plan for managing traffic and parking before raising a pint to toast this concept.

Comments

Joe

Doesn't seem like a huge leap from sacramental wine and singing to beer and music. ;)

More seriously (and moving down the street a bit), I've been walking by the disused building on the 500 block on Gregson now for more years than I can count. I've been thinking that a family-owned restaurant, coupled with a creative agreement for use and hours for the church parking across the street, could make a rather attractive package. I'd ditch liquor sales in deference to the church, and would be happy with just beer and wine (no alcohol at all is probably not going to work). Maybe it would work at this church too -- it's less centrally located for Trinity Park, but parking may be less of an issue.

barry

Durham is sorely lacking a brewpub, which is one of the amenities that makes a town worth living in.

Maybe opening up lower Gregson street to some commerce will be an incentive to convert Duke nd Gregson back to two way streets?

In the long term, though, the obsession with having every establishment able to provide its own parking is going to have to stop. Parking difficulties will incentivize alternative transportation modes, including walking and biking, as well as mass transit. Residents in Trinity Park, as well as every other neighborhood in Durham, need to remember that their taxes do not include the personal use of the parking space in front of their house.

That said, a brewpub closing at 10 on weeknights and midnight on weekends kind of misses the point, doesn't it?

Sean Wilson

Kevin, thanks for the great overview of the proposed project. You've nailed the challenges and opportunities associated with the church.

And Barry is right: I'd love to be open later and serve a later-night crowd. Hours of operation is just one of the many tight balancing acts with that particular location. But I am looking at other sites that would be free of many of the constraints the church poses. I just love that building and really hope it's preserved as a community gathering space and a historical property.

I'd love to hear from people about the theater/pub concept in general and the church in particular. If you have any thoughts, email me at sean@popthecap.org. Again, Kevin, thank you for the great summary.

Kevin Davis

Hey Barry, Joe: From a purely personal standpoint, I too would like to see something like this in the Brightleaf/downtown area, particularly a place that incorporates a one-screen cinema if possible. I have fond memories of going to the Asheville Brewing Co. and have long thought that Durham needs a place like that.

I think there's a catch-22 regarding the traffic and parking. First, I agree that central parking and walking a few feet makes a ton of sense. Problem is, of course, that the Brightleaf Square folks don't play nice where parking's concerned, as we've talked about on the blog before. If there were a public deck on the Main/Gregson lot with wrapper residential or retail (AKA, Gary's dream!), I think it would make proposals like this one much more of a sure bet from my perspective at least.

In the absence of that, though, folks are going to come and park on site. And with that, I think that there are challenges in how you get people to that parking if Morgan -> Albemarle -> Lamond is the only choice. Gregson going two-way is a *great* idea -- and also not something anyone's going to touch with a ten foot pole until the East End Connector gets built, if even then.

My position on this is more realpolitik than my own. Given the history of concerns over traffic and development on that street, my gut tells me this could be a tough sell with the neighborhood -- which is not to say I don't want to see Sean Wilson give it his all.

Sean -- thanks for coming and commenting on the project. I'll probably send more detailed thoughts by email, but my gut instinct tells me, as mentioned above, that the question of what happens with the rest of the land on the property in re townhouses, development, etc., strikes at the heart of an issue that rapidly seems to be becoming the Third Rail for projects in this neck of the woods.

If you do end up looking at other sites, I hope you're able to find something in downtown Durham. We definitely want for more entertainment options and this sounds like a great concept to add into the mix. I wonder if there are spaces over around the rapidly-growing DAP district that might also be worth checking out for this?

N.B.: On this as on all of my posts at BCR, I speak for myself and myself alone, not for my employer, the Trinity Park Neighborhood Association, my wife, or the John Birch Society.

barry

Sean - how does the Edge/Blaylock space near the Arts Council stack up for the brewing/seating capacity you're looking at?

Sean Wilson

I appreciate the comments and insights! I'm having a hard time getting my paid job done today. It's much more fun to hit F5.

I have looked at both the DAP area and the Blaylock space. I'm considering both, in spite of those crazy multicolored lights at the Blaylock. It's the whole lease-versus-buy thing.

There's another spot perfect for a small taproom and production brewery, right around the corner -- 810 Minerva. And a few other spaces in downtown, too. Golden Belt is a possible production-only site, but I really want to create a community gathering spot and I think GB is a few years away from supporting any on-site beer/food consumption.

I'm hoping that the location decision is a one- to two-month process, at most. Chris and I are really ready to establish a true Durham brewery. Maybe we'll call it "Skullduggery," in honor of Kevin.

barry

"Chris and I are really ready to establish a true Durham brewery."

Durham has a quite a long history of failed brewpubs. I hope you can overcome the curse.

Any plans to have guest brewers design any recipes on a rotating basis?

Sean Wilson

IMHO, there's no curse when it's been ten years since the last brewpub, which tried to make a go of it in something like 14,000 square feet. Plus, any place called "Steve and Clark's Sausage Factory" has enough of a curse already. :)

I do believe the 2005 lifting of the alcohol cap has led to a resurgence in Durham's craft beer scene. The Federal, Tyler's, etc. are all doing really well these days. It's a different world now than it was back in 1997.

We believe there's a market for local, handcrafted beer. Even better if there's another angle to it (ballroom/theatre, farmhouse food, using local ingredients in the brewing process).

We plan to offer a select number of guest taps from established breweries to compliment our own beers. If I'm understanding Barry right, I *love* the idea of a dedicated "open source" tap handle, serving beers developed in conjunction with homebrewers. I know a bunch of Durham homebrewers (TRUB, CARBOY) that would go nuts taking their hobby to the next level, working with a brewery to create their beer.

barry

"Open source tap handle" is a pretty good description of what i was thinking.

Sean, i'm still on the "Pop the Cap" list, if you're able to use that to distribute info about your pub ideas. Otherwise, i'll drop you a line.

Has it really been 10 years since the last brewpub in the Weeping Radish building closed down? The last tenant i recall there was the one that had Panama Jack's or some such, and that can't have been 10 years ago. then there was The Playground, which got shut down before they even opened for trying to serve untaxed liquor.

Joe

Isn't there some sort of community input that goes into the process of getting an alcohol license? If so, I can see the community not giving consent, especially if there isn't an explicit parking plan. Those people in Trinity Park arent' going to want people parking in front of their house to go eat and drink around the corner. I'm not saying I like that; I'm saying that's what might happen.

Today I also realized that some people also might not like a brewpub right across the street from a high school. Again, I'm not saying I'm against the idea -- I think a brewpub in there would be really cool. I'm saying that community support during development might be hard to come by.

Sean Wilson

Joseph,

Weeping Radish, Playground, et al was right across from the same high school. Same distance. The state requires a 50 feet minimum. No problems there.

The church parking lot has tons of spaces. The surrounding homes are primarily used as offices, zoned Office/Institutional. Empty in the evenings. Across the street on the other side of Lamond and Gregson (zoned Commercial General) are a handful of retail establishments and office buildings with additional excess parking that could potentially be leased.

I think there's this general impression that parking is a real challenge. While we've all experienced that a bunch in the Brightleaf area, this particular site currently has an appealing number of spaces.

And I've talked with dozens of Trinity Park residents about this idea. So far, the reaction to the restaurant/brewery/possible theater concept has been very positive. So far!!!

Valerie

Yes to beer brewed in Durham! Sorry St. Louis, but we wouldn't drink anything else again!

Joe

Sean, that's great, especially about the positive neighborhood feedback. Good luck. It broke my heart to see the brewing apparatus removed from the old Weeping Radish location. I think one of the problems the Weeping Radish and its successors had was that their food was just not that good. While a brewpub should have good beer, they'll also need better than mediocre food, IMO. And I don't think brewpubs in Durham are cursed, but I do think that location was cursed in restaurant terms. A brewpub in Durham makes a lot of sense, considering the interest in brewing here, the presence of All About Beer, and the World Beer Festival. And if you open the place, I'll be there. :)

BTW, 810 Minerva, if it's the building I'm thinking of, is a great idea. I bet those folks would be very happy with the idea of a brewpub going in there. I think that little chunk of Minerva east of Duke St. will need to get paved, but that's probably not a big deal, right?

Michael Bacon

First off: Rock out, Sean. This would be fantastic.

Thinking out loud here: If you can manage to keep a reasonable amount of the 5,000 sq. ft. open in the sanctuary, there's another use which comes to mind which perhaps could integrate well into your plans. I just thought of this, so don't hold me to it too much, but...

If the floor in that place is suspended wood like I'm guessing it is, that would be a terrific size, location, and atmosphere in which to hold community dances, like contras, squares, and other such events. You obviously wouldn't want to kill the dinner crowd on weekends, but it could fill the space on a Monday or Tuesday night. On weekends, it would be an ideal space in which to have acoustic performances, such as piedmont blues, or old time. The hard wooden surfaces of the church make for better unamplified or low-amplification music, and you could probably get a better pass from the neighbors if you set a limit on the wattage of amplification to be used.

I don't know how this would impact your floor plans, finances, or other ideas, but it would be great to have a space in Durham dedicated to traditional acoustic music and/or community dance.

barry

the first brewpub i ever went to was the Triple Rock in Berkeley, CA. (Although, in hindsight, i may have gone into the Manhattan Brewpub once or twice before moving out of NYC). The one i spent the most time in while living in California was the Rubicon, in Sacramento.

Neither of these establishments are known for their great food, but they esentially function as "neighborhood bars" that happen to make their own beer, and serve burgers, sandwiches, wings, soups, salads, etc.

Kinda what the Down Under would be like if they made their own beer.

Both of them have been in business for over twenty years.

Just sayin'.


http://www.rubiconbrewing.com/aboutus.htm
http://www.triplerock.com/pub2.html

Joe

Mysteriously, the Down Under has also been open for over 20 years. :)

Freddie

I think it's a great idea! I'll def be there when if and when it opens!

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