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Original Rainier Brewery: A One of A Kind

January 25, 2023

This article was written by Emma Hinchliffe and featured in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce on January 25th, 2023. To read the article on its original platform Read Here

In 2018, Portland-based developer ScanlanKemperBard purchased the over 120-year-old mixed-use Original Rainier Brewery complex at 5624-6004 Airport Way S. in Georgetown.

Following the sale, SKB launched a capital improvement project intended to improve the bustling property for a modern-day workforce and elevate its stature while maintaining the complex's historic integrity. Now that work is complete, and following a recent walk-through of the Bottling Plant, in many ways the centerpiece of the complex, I would say those intentions have certainly been met.

As you pull up to the former brewery site, which is today home to a mix of office and factory space, its industrial history is on full display. The four-building complex, which consists of the Bottling Plant, the Malt House, the Brew House/Warehouse and the General Office building, was constructed in 1896 and was formerly the home of the Seattle Brewing and Malting Co., brewers and bottlers of Seattle's now iconic Rainier Beer.

Externally the site looks pretty much as it would have in the late 1800s. However, once you enter the Bottling Plant you are hit with a heady mix of past and present as original features of the brick and timber structure – such as wooden floors, timber ceiling beams, exposed brick walls and historic windows – are juxtaposed with modern furnishings and finishes and state-of-the-art building systems. Historic images detailing the building's past (hung by previous owner Sabey Corp.) line the hallways. These lead to thoughtfully designed amenity areas and a diverse mix of office spaces, not one with the exact same floorplan or interior aesthetic but all tied together by the historic bones of the property, making for a totally unique and one-of–akind workplace.

Sabey extensively renovated the property after they purchased it in 2006. Architect Clark Barnes designed the latest round of capital improvements for SKB. Notable improvements include structural upgrades, facade improvement work, new amenity spaces, such as a kitchen and lounge area and new showers and bike storage in the Bottling Plant, and updated common areas throughout the property. Venture was the general contractor for this work.

Most improvements have been made to the approximately 85,000 square foot Bottling Plant which has also received a seismic retrofit and new electric and HVAC systems. That HVAC system was the last element to be completed and was installed last summer by mechanical contractor Enviromech. “We had considered hiding the new HVAC system,” Jo Ann Williams, senior vice president, asset management, at SKB, shared, “but made the decision to keep it exposed as we felt it actually added to the industrial feel and look of the property.”

Coughlin Porter Lundeen oversaw the seismic retrofit of the Bottling Plant which addressed critical life-safety issues and was intended to proactively comply with Seattle's URM ordinance. This work included window infill and new shear walls and strapping. That strapping is also visible and is another modern intervention that adds to rather than takes away from the industrial character of the property.

The new centerpiece of the Bottling Plants is an upgraded tenant amenity space located in what was traditionally a loading bay. Today, the space is light, airy, and bright, with residential inspired furnishings and finishes. SKB has also consolidated some of the plant's smaller unoccupied offices into medium-sized spaces.

This has revealed more of the building's historic structure which was previously hidden by nonoriginal interior walls. The Bottling Plant now has approximately 25 rentable spaces. Tenants include REI and Patagonia. The total rentable space at the Original Rainier Brewery is approximately 187,000 square feet. The Brew House/Warehouse and the General Office are currently fully leased but there is still space up for grabs in the Malt House and Bottling Plant. CBRE Group is the broker.

Another improvement project currently underway is the removal of a 2,264-square-foot annex addition at the General Office building. That annex was added in the 1970s and is not in keeping with the building's historic architecture, which is why SKB made the decision to remove it. “The annex just doesn't fit and detracts from the beauty of the historic property,” Williams explained. Construction company JTM, who last year rented space in the Brew House will do the work.

Demolition is set to begin as soon as permits have been approved by the City of Seattle. The Brew House building underwent significant renovations, including an addition, in 2014.

The entire complex (minus the annex) was landmarked in 1993, so all of SKB's capital improvements had to be cleared by the Landmarks Preservation Board. At the time of landmarking the Original Rainier Brewery was heralded for its ties to the history of industry in Georgetown and also to the era of prohibition. The brewery was ordered to stop production of Rainier Beer in 1916 after the state banned alcohol. After that time the complex transitioned to Rainier Ice & Cold Storage and was used to process fruits and vegetables and make ice. When the brewer did begin production again in the 1930s they did so at the Old Rainier Brewery, located approximately two miles south of the original complex.

“We are really happy with how the capital improvements have turned out and feel they have really elevated the space while at the same time keeping the feeling and vibe of the property intact, and even enhanced,” James Paul, executive vice president, asset management, with SKB shared. SKB has its own office in the Bottling Plant and is joined by a diverse roster of tenants, mainly in the creative industries. This continues the legacy of the plant as a space where things have always been made and where creative ideas and visions come to life. The creative nature of the tenants is also reflected in their private offices. The historic nature of the building already makes this a unique place to work but SKB encourages tenants to put their own mark and spin on their new homes. Every office I visited had a different vibe, some with a cozier residential feel, others more akin to an artistic loft.

For example, one of the Bottling Plant's newest tenants, production company Kontent Partners (who moved there from Capitol Hill in April 2022) has designed their space to evoke “a modern day living room in London's Soho neighborhood.” The office is divided between a desk area, a midcentury modern inspired lounge area and a coffee/cocktail bar. Interiors are rich and moody and play-off the industrial bones of the property. Another tenant requested to reuse one of the building's historic windows, which could not be restored, as a novel partition within its space. “We loved this idea and how creative it was,” Williams said.

While the office market is still facing the unpredictable aftershocks of the pandemic, SKB is confident in the appeal of this building, and it must be said that all the tenants I interacted with seemed to really enjoy working in the space and felt inspired by the history of the property. “This is not just a unique and well appointed place to work, it's also a piece of Seattle's history,” Paul said, sharing his own enthusiasm for the project.

The uniqueness of the Original Rainier Brewery as a workplace also comes from its size and location. While it is not uncommon for Seattle's historic and/or landmarked properties to get a new lease of life as office space, you would be hard pressed to find another example of this size and with this diversity of spaces.

Further adding to the appeal is the fact that the brewery is located in a historically protected district and an area of Georgetown full of historic brick buildings. When you leave the complex therefore you still feel a connection to the past and to the history of the area and can easily picture the horse drawn carriages loaded up with bottles of Rainier Beer that would have been coming to and from the brewery. Another major boon is parking, which is ample.

“We fell in love with this building as soon as we saw it and are honored to get to be its caretakers for its next phase of existence,” Williams concluded.