Paw Paw redevelopment brings together craft beer, trails, recreation area

The Village of Paw Paw bought some neglected land where businesses had moved out. With some work, trails and a recreation area could propel new business there. It's already attracted an expanded Paw Paw Brewing Co.
Craft beer continues to be a driver of both economic and community growth in Southwest Michigan. And Paw Paw Brewing Company is the most recent brewing operation to begin a sizable expansion to its operation.

The 5-year-old brewery will soon move out of its original digs on East Michigan Avenue to take over a former Paw Paw Winery building at 145 Industrial Avenue.

The new space is adjacent to a soon-to-be developed community area purchased by the village last year.

"The price was right. It's a challenging piece of property, but it's gorgeous. It's 22,000 square feet but we're only going to utilize about 6,000 square feet initially," Ben Fleckenstein of Paw Paw Brewing Company says.

Along with relocating the company's pub, Paw Paw Brewing also wants to use the space for community development, entertainment, and commerce.

"We want to have a much deeper connection to the community than just craft beer. We want to do a Farmers Market in the summertime. We want to be the incubator for those things. We're going to put in a Frisbee golf course, kayak rental, snowshoe rental," Fleckenstein says.

"There are so many ideas; we've talked about doing blues nights, where we have a blues musician from Detroit and a blues musician from Chicago come in and kind of play against each other, just go at it and tear the roof off. We have all these ideas that we want to do. Plus new beers, and we want to have like five firkin engines going, maybe 15 handles. We want to have a whole line of sodas for the kids.

"There' so much to it, we want to build a new website for this place, over the course of the year we're going to take pictures of the progress and have an event calendar, so as we come upon with these ideas, we can keep ourselves in check by posting it and people can see the progress and see all the things that are happening."

But none of this would be happening if the Village of Paw Paw hadn't taken the initiative to purchase a run down lot in the old industrial area.

"We now own a 2.5 acre parcel just to the east of where the Paw Paw Brewing company would be," says Larry Nielsen, Paw Paw Village Manager. "We bought a dilapidated, boarded-up, condemned building.
We tore it down and cleared the lot. We intend to use part of that 2.5 acres as a trailhead and dog park.

"The trail would start here and run to the other side of Lawrence," he continues. "That's being developed by the friends of the Kal-Haven Trail. I don't know any of the timing for that but we intend to be ready with the trailhead, bathroom facilities, mapping information, and a place where people can walk their dogs."

The recreation area and all the possibilities for community growth was what drew Paw Paw Brewing Company to the location.

"If that wasn't happening we wouldn't do it," Fleckenstein says. "It's 100 percent critical. That's what lured us to this space. We wouldn't have looked at this building without the trailhead and all of that."

And the village couldn’t be happier with the brewery's decision to relocate, as that fits squarely within the village's redevelopment plans. "That whole area is a revitalization area," Neilsen says. "We think that our investment and the brewery's investment will be great to spur other development. That area was our old industrial district. We think the area will serve not only the trail but also a number of other businesses.

"They've been very good to work with," Neilsen says. "The village and our downtown development authority has worked with them over the years. The village is really pleased with them. They’ve managed their growth really well and we think it bodes well for the long term."

Part of that growth will include full restaurant service and an eventual expansion of the brewing operation and packaging lines, all of which will come with the hiring of new staff members.

"Over the course of the next three to five years I'd say that 10 full-time positions is not crazy, plus a chef. We want to do a full kitchen too. We bought an entire restaurant a week ago, floor to ceiling," Fleckenstein says.

Though the move to the new space, which is being designed and created by AR Engineering of Kalamazoo, is the primary goal for the brewery, the company nonetheless intends to roll out some new and exciting products even before that happens.

"We have a new package for this spring," Fleckenstein says. "It's a mixed 12-pack of bottles that will concentrate on the terroir of hops and grains in Michigan. (terroir: the complete natural environment in which a particular beverage is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.) We're really excited about that one. Hophead farms is collaborating with us. The package has the hop growers' notes, so you'll be able to see what Jeff and Bonnie Steinman have to say, and on the other side of the box are brewer's notes with Trevor and Ryan my partners."

Jeremy Martin is the adult beverages writer for Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.
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