Dustin Chalfant and his Senn Bierwerks partners looked at nearly two dozen sites for their brewery but kept circling back to an empty lot on Olive Boulevard in University City.
“We looked hard in the Central West End,” said Chalfant, president of the startup beermaker.
He and his Senn co-founders also examined places on The Hill, south St. Louis and elsewhere but finally chose the two-acre site at 7593 Olive. The Arcade Lanes bowling alley occupied part of the site until it burned in 2003 after nearly 60 years in business.
Senn Bierwerks, a $6 million project that will have a brewery, tasting room and a restaurant, is a boost to a branding program city officials call Olive Link. It’s an effort to bring more business and activity to the street’s four-mile stretch between Interstate 170 and Skinker Boulevard, in St. Louis.
Jodie Lloyd, University City’s manager of economic development, said officials sought a restaurant or other retail project for the site after first hoping to lure a developer of a mid-rise residential building. As it turned out, the city will get its only brewery.
Lloyd said she believed Senn, scheduled to open in 2017, would revitalize Olive much the way other St. Louis-area brewers, including Urban Chestnut and Schlafly, have boosted their neighborhoods.
Senn will go up on a stretch of Olive known for its Chinese restaurants and international markets.
As part of the city’s Olive Link program, the area is designated as the “International” district. The other districts are “Interchange” east of I-170, “Parkway” near Heman Park and “Industrial” west of Skinker.
Lloyd said the program was not meant to redo Olive as another Delmar Loop but to promote it as a street attractive to small businesses and artists.
She said the city would expand its facade improvement program for Olive businesses. The program, funded by a quarter-cent citywide sales tax for economic development, provides a 50-percent match of up to $15,000 for business owners who fix up the fronts of their buildings.
Spry Digital, of St. Louis, worked with University City officials to develop the Olive Link website and brochure. Lloyd said the city would publish versions in Chinese and, later, in Spanish to attract more international businesses.
University City owns the site’s five adjoining parcels through acquisitions made between 2007 and 2009. It bought the parcels for about $860,000 and paid to demolish the site’s rundown buildings, including the Arcade.
After rejecting inquiries from resale shops, discount retailers and convenience stores, the city began seeking offers a year ago for a more upscale project on the property.
As a result, the city has agreed to sell the site to developer Tim O’Donnell, whose projects include renovation of a former grocery across the street as a physical therapy facility and weight-loss clinic. He will be Senn’s landlord and part-investor.
Lloyd said a special sales tax might be established at Senn to fund site improvements.
O’Donnell said Olive was a short drive from downtown Clayton and a more affordable business district than the Loop. He added that he was getting inquiries from pizza, barbecue and fast-casual restaurant owners who want to open at Senn.
“We will have our choice of restaurants,” he said.
O’Donnell said the Olive Link effort would draw to the area artists and small-scale clothing, jewelry and other product makers inclined now to set up shop in the Central West End, Maplewood or the Grove.
Chalfant said he was eager to get brewery construction underway.
“It’s a great area; it’s a cool area,” he said.
The 20-barrel brewery is a project of Chalfant, his wife, Kristen, and James Hellmuth. They announced the project’s site on Tuesday. Senn is named for Chalfant’s great-great-great-great-uncle Frank Senn Sr., who was a brewer in late-19th-century Louisville, Ky.
Chalfant said he and his co-founders planned to begin construction this summer and hoped to open the beer taps next spring. He said he wanted to help make the Olive corridor a must-visit area.
“We’d like to make the whole area cool,” he said. “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”