Canby Closes Book on Beer Library

The city of Canby has closed the book on The Beer Library, a proposal by Oregon City Brewing Co. owner and founder Bryce Morrow to transform the city-owned former library building on the corner of NW 3rd and Holly into a brewpub with three permanent indoor food carts and an all-ages arcade.

The city informed Morrow of its decision in a letter Thursday that was shared with the Canby Now Podcast, which began by thanking him for his updated June 13 proposal.

“After careful consideration, the City has decided to reject the proposal, withdraw from the negotiations on the property, and retain the former Library space,” the letter read. “In the months ahead, the City will be exploring a variety of options to activate this important downtown space.”

The reasons for the city’s decision were not made clear, and the negotiations were confidential. The Canby City Council had convened in executive session Wednesday night in a meeting that was noticed to discuss real estate transactions.

The council had selected the original proposal for The Beer Library as the most promising of four concepts submitted earlier this year, favoring what they perceived as its ability to activate an important commercial space and draw new visitors into the city’s downtown core. 

And the project appeared to be in the wheelhouse for OC Brewing, which took a former flooring supply store five years ago and turned it into Oregon City’s first brewery since the one owned by pioneer Jacob Mader closed in 1895.

But their purchase offer of $10,000 — approximately 1 percent of the $950,000 the property was appraised at several years ago — was a non-starter. The council directed Economic Development Director Jamie Stickel to follow-up with Morrow and gauge his willingness to drastically increase his offer or accept a lease agreement.

The original offer had been the result of the devastating economic impacts brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic — including low consumer confidence, high unemployment and tightening of lending — as well as the $1.5 million they estimated it would cost to renovate the facility.

All four of the offers the city received through the RFP process had been far below the property’s assessed value — the highest being $167,000. At that meeting in May, councilors had expressed fears that they may sell the property for a song based on an attractive concept, then watch the buyer “flip” it to another entity for a quick profit.

On Thursday, Morrow confirmed that he had met with Stickel on more than one occasion, and had expressed that they were not interested in leasing. OC Brewing did increase its purchase offer, and though he declined to give the amount, he said it was higher than any other offer that had been made during the previous RFP.

“It’s disappointing, but it doesn’t change our stance on Canby,” he said. “We think it’s an amazing city, and we really feel a connection to it. It’s near our home. Honestly, we wouldn’t look at expanding in any other place.”

Morrow said he and his team also looked at the former Canby police station next to the old city hall (“Beer Police,” anyone? Or maybe “The Beer Department”?), but were also unable to come to terms with Hanlon Development, which is leading the redevelopment of the Canby Civic Block, including the Dahlia.

“Canby’s got all these great, old buildings, and we think it needs a brewpub,” Morrow said. “And if it doesn’t work out here, I hope we can find a place somewhere else. I think the community would really support it.”

This is the second time in less than two years that an effort to transform the old library building into the city’s first brewery has failed to come together.

In January 2019, the city had also selected a brewpub concept during an earlier RFP process. The nascent Canby Brewing Co. was open to a long-term lease agreement, but the negotiations broke down a few months later, and the city, again, opted to hold on to the property.

Canby appears to be the largest city in the state of Oregon without its own commercial brewery or brewpub, with the notable exception of Woodburn. It does boast the FOB Taproom at Canby Place, which operates on a similar model — though it does not serve food or brew its own beer.

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

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