Every weekday afternoon, thousands of people working in a Newport News municipal office or for Newport News Shipbuilding drive on 23rd Street to the Interstate 664 ramp, past a row of empty warehouses with distinct brick exteriors that have weathered and faded, and long sat in disuse.
A local developer and brewers have teamed up to turn one of those warehouses into a brewery, betting that some of those commuters would prefer to wait out the traffic with a cold beer.
This summer, Coastal Fermentory plans to open a brewery and taproom at 206 23rd St. Provost Construction is the contractor for the project and is the owner of the building and neighboring warehouses. The company’s vision is to set up offices for its employees next door to the brewery and then renovate the empty warehouses for retail, restaurants and a coffee shop on the first floor with apartment units above.
The city envisions the overall project, along with the nearby Ironclad Distillery and Train Station restaurant, as a major step toward a “restaurant row” that brings vibrancy and energy to downtown and draws people to the area for reasons besides the shipyard and municipal buildings.
Jonathan Provost, owner of Provost Construction, said the options for dining or hanging out in the area are limited, but the working population and proximity to the interstate creates opportunity. His company is based in Norfolk, and he thinks within a few years, Newport News and developers could make changes in downtown that make the area feel like the parts of Norfolk where people can “live, work, play” without having to go very far.
Brandon Samuels and Mike Reppert, two of three co-owners of Coastal Fermentory, said they initially passed on the location and acknowledged that some people may have concerns about being downtown at night. But they’ve found the area to be quiet besides city employees who occasionally work into the evening and walk to their vehicle in one of the nearby lots.
“We’re aware that it might be hard to pull people from other areas to come (here),” Samuels said. “But all the people who are already down there, like at the shipyard and municipal buildings, that can be our initial customer base.”
Reppert said that visiting the site and seeing the line of cars waiting to get on the interstate in the afternoon crystallized for them that it was a good location. Samuels added that Ironclad Distillery, which is a parking lot over from the Coastal Fermentory location, already sees good business at 3 p.m. when the shipyard lets out.
From that initial customer base, the brewers believe they can draw more people, especially as the rest of Provost’s and the city’s ideas come to fruition. Depending on the conditions in the tunnels, it’s an easy drive from Harborview in Suffolk and not a long drive from other Hampton Roads localities, Samuels said.
Coastal Fermentory is currently a home-based operation, so the full-scale brewery will be a large step. The taproom will be about 6,000 square feet, including storage space inspired by a past cold storage freezer that’s still standing.
Reppert and Samuels said they mostly brew what they like — hazy and west coast IPAs, stouts, saisons — but they want to serve something for everyone. They’re working on a stout recipe that utilizes a bourbon barrel purchased from Ironclad Distillery.
The three team members are all engineers and got into brewing as a hobby. They’ve started growing their brand and filling growlers for others to try in preparation for opening up the brewery.
Provost is the company behind local projects such as the Circuit Social bar and arcade, Urban Outfitters, the Stockpot Restaurant and Coelacanth Brewing, all in Norfolk. Nationally, it builds many Domino’s Pizza locations.
Chris Tillett, chief development officer for Provost, said the company has received and is applying for more historic tax credits for the downtown Newport News project. Wednesday, the company finalized the deal to take ownership of warehouses, which butt up to former rail lines. Provost said he was glad to renovate the warehouses rather than see someone else tear them down for something completely new.
“They fit perfectly with what we want,” said Florence Kingston, the city’s director of development.
Initially, the city and Provost were bidding against each other for what will be the brewery building — after Provost won, city staff learned about the plans for the warehouses and said they were glad he outbid them.
Moving forward, Kingston said the city wants to find more co-creators to shape that part of downtown. The city’s Downtown Reimagined Plan involves public art and lighting and landscaping improvements on 23rd Street, along with a connection to the nearby waterfront to create a “restaurant row.”
The city has also said it wants to have events downtown, using spaces like the City Hall parking lot or parks to get people in the habit of coming to the area.
The city improvements are in design and work is scheduled to start in the spring. The budget for the improvements is $1.75 million.