Check It Out: Oregon City Brewing Aims to Turn Old Library into Canby’s First Brewery

A developer once again has the lead on turning Canby’s former library building into the town’s first brewery.

Oregon City Brewing Co. was selected by the Canby City Council Wednesday night as the most promising of four proposals submitted for the nearly 11,000-square-foot building on the corner of NW 3rd and Holly. The owners and operators of the popular brewpub in downtown Oregon City said in their proposal that they would love to do the same thing in Canby.

“We were the first brewery to operate in Oregon City since Jacob Mader’s Oregon City Brewery closed in 1895,” said the team led by Bryce Morrow. “We relish the opportunity to be the first brewery in Canby. We exist for two reasons. To make excellent craft beer, and to build community.”

Their vision for the city-owned property — which has gone through several false starts in its past attempts at redevelopment — is bold and ambitious. They call it The Beer Library.

And, I don’t know about you, but they’ve got us at the name. We would love to be able to go hang out at a pub, and still be able to tell our spouses, truthfully, that we were just “down at the library.”

Artist’s rendering of an inside view of The Beer Library. Courtesy Oregon City Brewing and the city of Canby.

The brewpub would feature three permanent indoor food carts offering a diverse array of cuisines, on-site brewing including the company’s burgeoning barrel aging and blending operations and — I kid you not — an honest-to-goodness arcade, which would be open to all ages until late in the evening.

The developers would drastically transform the existing space, including peeling back a portion of the roof to create an outdoor courtyard in the heart of the project.

They would also retain two other retail spaces they would seek to lease out to complementary businesses. In short, The Beer Library would be a multi-use, family-friendly brewery “that aims to be a living room for the community.”

It may sound almost too good to be true and, well, there is one teensy little problem. Oregon City Brewing, who would like to purchase the building outright, is offering only a fraction of the property’s estimated value — and that fraction is about 1/100th.

The company is offering only $10,000 for the building, which was appraised several years ago at approximately $950,000. This request for proposal process coincided with one of the worst economic calamities to hit the beverage industry since Prohibition, an almost total shutdown of bars, brewpubs and tasting rooms caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — which is far from over.

“It is amazing how much has changed in the two months since I drafted this proposal,” Morrow said. “We have been forced to temporarily lay off 13 of 15 staff since our forced closure due to COVID-19 on March 17. We had to pivot our business to selling canned beers and while we are finding some success, it is far from business as usual.

“One thing we are certain of is that humanity will continue, and people will again gather for food and drink. As to when this will happen is anyone’s best guess.”

Proposed interior layout for The Beer Library. Courtesy Oregon City Brewing and the city of Canby.

Morrow says low consumer confidence, local and national economic recession, high unemployment and tightening of lending led to their offer of ten grand, which was revised as of April 25.

At a work session Wednesday night during which all four proposals were discussed, the O.C. Brewing concept was far and away the favorite — but their purchase offer was a non-starter.

“I think it activates the downtown the way we want,” Mayor Brian Hodson said of The Beer Library. “I think it creates a greater draw into downtown. I think being kitty-cornered from the park creates an extension of their patio, which could be a nice space. I don’t like the $10,000 purchase price. The first time I read it, I thought it was a typo.”

O.C. was not the only low-ball. Of the three others — a neighborhood health center, a community marketplace and Thelma’s Place — the offers ran the gamut from $25,000 to $167,000. Councilor Greg Parker said he would be in favor of rejecting them all.

“Send a clear message,” he said. “Some day, this property is going to be worth more than $10,000. It could be worth more than a million dollars. And we will go down in history as the council who sold a million-dollar piece of real estate for $10,000. So, my vote: reject them all.”

Possible branding concepts for The Beer Library. Courtesy Oregon City Brewing and the city of Canby.

Other than the economic factors, a major reason for O.C. Brewing’s low offer was the amount they would have to put into the building, which needs asbestos abatement, a new HVAC system, numerous ADA upgrades and roof improvements just to meet the codes for occupancy. Plus, what it would cost to realize their full vision for the project.

They estimate those costs at more than $1.5 million, which they would finance with the help of a $200,000 Oregon Main Street Revitalization grant the city was awarded last year (Economic Development Director Jamie Stickel told the council Wednesday night that this grant may be put toward tenant improvements).

As high a sum as that is, especially in today’s uncertain economy, it’s roughly half of the estimate the city received for a more modest indoor marketplace concept they had hoped to pursue.

A big concern for councilors is that they could sell the building for a song, then watch it continue to sit empty because of a lack of financing for improvements. In their proposal, O.C. Brewing did not give a guaranteed timeline, admitting “the time horizon of when the project could be completed is unclear.”

The council directed Stickel to go back to Morrow and the O.C. Brewing team to discuss their willingness to negotiate on the purchase price, or openness to a lease agreement.

If the company still wants to buy instead of lease, several councilors said the purchase contract would need to be performance-based, where some or all of the improvements must be completed before the property actually changes hands.

Just a little over a year ago, the city had started discussions on a lease agreement with the local owners of Canby Brewing Company, but were unable to come to terms.

The complete proposal for The Beer Library is available below. For a look at all four concepts, see the packet for Wednesday night’s meeting on the city’s website.

Click to access Oregon-City-Brewing-Co-Canby-Proposal.pdf

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