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Trackside Craft District is coming but Brewers Row was first

By Steve Maher
Our Valley Our Future

An idea that arose during Our Valley Our Future’s community outreach work in 2015-16 — which then led to the short-lived Brewers Row in Wenatchee — has now morphed into the Trackside Craft Brewery District along Columbia Street in Wenatchee.

The Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority recently unveiled the brewery district concept, along with architectural renderings and news it is negotiating with a Leavenworth brewery to occupy a space on Columbia Street. On behalf of the Regional Port, OVOF has written letters supporting the proposal to U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier. The Port is seeking congressional funding for the project.

OVOF is grateful for the Port’s involvement as it takes time and money to move such a project forward. OVOF also is OK with action items in the OVOF Action Plan evolving over time as conditions change. As long as the original intent from residents — they were the ones who initially proposed the brewery district — is honored, then OVOF is fine with that change.

From 2017 through 2019, Brewers Row was a real thing with initial founders Wenatchee Valley Brewing, Columbia Valley Brewing, and Badger Mountain Brewing promoting the district, creating an “ale trail” map, and organizing well-attended Summer Solstice 5K runs and several other events. I facilitated about a dozen Brewers Row meetings on behalf of OVOF, which also arranged for a grant to pay for a logo and other design work. In addition, the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce devoted staff time and provided logistical and marketing support.

As the first brewery district in the city’s history, much thought went into the Brewers Row name and logo. Since all three breweries were located along or next to the closest road to the waterfront, and within walking distance of each other, the breweries decided to play off that connection. Wenatchee graphic designer Lars Ringsrud took those thoughts and created a really cool logo featuring an osprey, a bird with a significant presence along the Columbia River, too.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic closed the doors to the breweries for a spell and put a halt to the momentum of Brewers Row. Then, once the pandemic receded, interest from the breweries wasn’t the same, with their focus needed elsewhere. Recently, one of the three founding members — Badger Mountain — closed its doors for good.

While some on social media have been calling the Port’s brewery district plans a pipe dream, the Port’s bet is a good one. The Wenatchee waterfront has blossomed in recent years, not only thanks to Pybus Public Market, Town Toyota Center, and construction of Riverside Drive, but also due to the influx of literally hundreds and hundreds of people living there now. Many of those waterfront dwellers are younger, in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and are looking for places to meet, eat and drink. And there are more coming, with the Riverfront Village apartments opening soon between Riverside Drive and Worthen Street.

With an increasingly vibrant downtown Wenatchee restaurant scene just a block or two away, the plan to recruit and accommodate craft breweries in the old fruit warehouses long Columbia Street not only makes sense but it fits the place pretty well. What better location for craft breweries than in a funky old area of the city that traces its beginnings back to Wenatchee’s start?

In announcing the proposed Trackside Craft District, the Port said it is beginning to negotiate with Blewett Brewing Co. of Leavenworth to occupy the former Badger Mountain Brewery space at the corner of Columbia and Orondo. Riverhound Brewing and Kulshan Brewing Co. also submitted proposals, but weren’t picked for the first round of lease talks.

The hunch here is that if Blewett Brewing or another brewery begins production along Columbia Street, Trackside will take hold and grow. And if it does, another action item that originated with residents will have come to fruition.