What do Lynchburg, Tenn., and Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway have in common?
If one company’s aspirations come to fruition, the Foss, like Lynchburg with its famed Jack Daniel Distillery, could be home to a distillery with a nationwide reputation.
A startup company with ambitions of creating a line of premium spirits for national distribution is eyeing a parcel on the near-downtown waterway’s east side as the site for a new distillery and restaurant.
Riverhorse Inc. said this week that the site on East D Street, adjacent to Tacoma’s old waterfront fire station north of the Murray Morgan Bridge, is among the finalists in a competition to become the home of the new facility, to be called Copper & Kings Distillery.
The company, now based in Minneapolis, is looking at other sites in Oregon, Kentucky and Virginia.
At stake for Tacoma’s economic development executives is a distillery operation that could initially bring 50 jobs to Tacoma, and more later if the plans for its rollout are successful.
Greg Gadel, Riverhorse’s financial officer, said the company will make a decision as soon as possible.
The company is waiting to see whether the state’s Community Economic Revitalization Board approves a $300,000 aid package to help pay for improvements to streets and other public facilities near the distillery site before weighing the advantages of each site against the others.
If the board rejects that proposal, the Tacoma site will be out of the competition, he said. The board meets Jan. 17.
Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department, which learned of Riverhorse’s interest in the site in late November, has been working swiftly to prepare a presentation for the state board, said Elly Walkowiak, a city economic development official.
Riverhorse is considering both the availability of basic ingredients for spirits production nearby and the proximity to population centers in making its site decision, Gadel said.
“We’re looking for somewhere with ready access to apples and grapes. Oregon and Washington win on that score,” Gadel said.
However, on the proximity of big markets for distribution of Copper & Kings’ finished products, Kentucky is a winner, he said.
If Tacoma is picked, the battered old industrial building on the site likely will be demolished, replaced by a new structure, said Gadel.
That building was constructed in 1925, Pierce County records show. The Pierce County Assessor’s office rates the building as being in “very poor” condition.
Gadel said that while the building’s sheet-metal exterior is unappealing, the structure’s old-growth timber framing could be recycled for use in the new distillery building.
The assessor’s office appraised the building and land together at $554,000. Of that, the assessor valued the structure itself at $26,000, a little more than $1 a square foot, with the land being worth the remainder.
The land and building are listed for sale at $675,000.
Riverhorse’s plans call for production of brandy, vodka and gin and other spirits in the new facility.
“These will all be premium products. We plan to have national distribution,” said Gadel.
If the distillery ends up in Tacoma, the parent company and its owners and officers will move here, he said.
Once the distillery itself is completed, the second phase of the project calls for construction of a bar and restaurant on the water side of the complex with a large deck overlooking the waterway and downtown Tacoma.
The nearby Murray Morgan Bridge is scheduled to reopen soon, following an extensive renovation. That bridge will carry traffic on East 11th Street across the waterway to the Tacoma Tideflats, including the East D Street distillery site.
The distillery, Walkowiak said, is backed by investors with a stellar track record in the beverage business.
Those investors sold their Crispin Cider Co. in recent years to MillerCoors. And those same entrepreneurs sold their Nutrisoda operation to PepsiAmericas.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663