Yards Brewing Plans to Move Closer to Center City

The brewery is bursting at the seams in its current Delaware Avenue location. The owners of the planned SoNo development see it as their perfect anchor tenant. Its Northern Liberties neighbors want to see this happen but have a few questions they want answered.
A conceptual rendering of the taproom at the proposed Yards Brewing Company brewpub. | Rendering by Digsau, courtesy Alliance HSB

A conceptual rendering of the taproom at the proposed Yards Brewing Company brewpub. | Rendering by Digsau via Alliance | HSB

The planned SoNo development, which was to have converted the former Destination Maternity headquarters in the 500 block of Spring Garden Street in Northern Liberties to creative office space, has found its anchor tenant.

That would be Yards Brewing Company, a local success story whose founder and president, Tom Kehoe, has been a big booster of efforts to promote manufacturing in the city.

The brewery is bumping up against the limits of its current space on Delaware Avenue along the waterfront, and the SoNo building offers the space they need not only for an expanding brewery but also for a brewpub that both Yards and building owners Alliance | HSP see as a catalyst for enlivening a dead stretch of Spring Garden Street.

At their presentation to the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association Zoning Committee yesterday (June 27th), Kehoe, Yards Chief Operating Officer Trevor Prichett, and Matt Handel and Max Ryan of Alliance HSP made their case for the site, which requires a zoning variance for manufacturing.

Pritchett stressed the brewery’s commitment to Philadelphia. “We were courted by a number of municipalities outside Philadelphia, but we’re Philadelphia’s beer,” he said. In addition to the capacity limits at the current site, Kehoe said, Yards would like to be closer to the action in the heart of the city, where customers could walk to its brewpub. In addition, the site offers excellent access to I-95 and I-676, which is useful for the brewery’s distribution operation.

The brewery would occupy 80,000 square feet of the 220,000-square-foot building. Most of that space would be devoted to the brewery itself, and its grain storage tanks would be located outside the building footprint, both in the loading dock area and along the Fifth Street side of the building. The new facility would allow Yards to more than double its current production, as it would have a capacity of 100,000 barrels a year. The total space Yards plans to occupy is more than the brewery will need for its operations, and some of that extra space would be taken up by the proposed brewpub on the Spring Garden Street side.

The site requires a zoning variance because a recent rezoning changed its permitted use from industrial to commercial mixed-use, which, as NLNA Zoning Committee Chair Larry Freedman said, means that the owners “can do anything except what they want to do, which is manufacturing.”

The group appeared before the committee mainly because without the assurance that they can operate a brewery in the space, there’s no point in Yards signing a lease, so they decided to seek the approval of the NLNA before submitting variance requests. The variance the group seeks would specifically restrict the manufacturing activity to a brewery.

The members of the NLNA Zoning Committee are supportive of Yards’ and Alliance | HSP’s proposal for a brewery and brewpub in the SoNo space. They’re also familiar with the Yards operation, which currently sits at the neighborhood’s eastern edge. But, as they made clear, they need to consider what might happen should Yards move again or get taken over. The group’s main concern is that while Yards may be a responsible business, any variances granted attach to the site, which means that a less responsible operator could occupy it later. As a result, the committee decided to take no action on the variance request until Yards and Alliance | HSP representatives could better answer their questions about how waste, noise, truck traffic on Fifth Street and parking for employees and brewpub guests would be handled.

The group also had some questions about how the brewpub would operate — Yards would like to be able to host functions such as weddings and office parties in a section of the space — but Friedman pointed out that those could be dealt with when the group returns for a likely special exception that will also be required.

[Updated 1:19 p.m. to correct the total square footage for the building.]

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