A disappointing turn of events for Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood is offset by encouraging news for Duluth.
Last June, Fitger’s Brewhouse co-owners Rod Raymond and Tim Nelson announced their intention to convert the long-shuttered Trocaderos nightclub and restaurant (107 3rd Av. N.) into a brewpub and music venue. Those plans have been scuttled.
“We had a purchase agreement, but in the end we’ve decided not to exercise it,” said Brad Nelson, spokesman for Fitger's parent company, Just Take Action. One reason: The building’s enormous footprint. “That made the scope of the project really big,” said Nelson. “Being out of town only made the project more difficult for us.”
Another reason: The company is adding another venue to its growing list of Duluth enterprises (which includes Burrito Union restaurant and Red Star nightclub). It just acquired, in a city-run auction, the historic Endion Station building in Canal Park, Duluth’s tourism epicenter. The price? $300,000.
Plans for the building -- an 1899 Richardsonian Romanesque landmark -- aren’t entirely clear, but, pending city approval, Nelson said the hope is to reprogram the former train depot into a seasonal destination for beer lovers, catering to the many pedestrians and bikers who pass by the building on the popular Lakewalk. A limited food menu is also a possibility. Nelson said the target opening is set for sometime next spring.
There’s a bit of critical mass in play, too: It’s two doors down from the soon-to-open Canal Park Brewing Co., an ambitious craft beer operation and restaurant scheduled to open this month.
Just Take Action has a taste for historic buildings. Fitger's fortress-like lakeside pile hails from the 1880s, and portions of the Minneapolis property dated to 1892. Last month, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota's Adaptive Reuse award went to the company for its scrupulous conversion of Duluth's former 1899 city hall into Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery, located a few blocks west of Fitger's and a brief walk from Endion Station.
In 1986, Endion Station (pictured, above, in a photograph from the city of Duluth), was moved from its original east Duluth location to its present lakefront site. After serving as the home of an advertising agency, a tourism bureau and a retailer, the two-story sandstone beauty has been crying out for a food-and-drink tenant. "It will be an incredible spot to enjoy Duluth," said Nelson.
That’s not all. The company has big plans for a building that it owns on the ever-improving E. Superior St., across from the soon-to-be-renovated NorShor Theatre. The sprawling structure (206 E. Superior St.) was a former Nash automobile showroom, but contemporaries will recognize it for its most recent tenant, Big Lake Books. It has sat empty for several years. But that’s about to change.
The building’s generous floor plates -- 18,000 square feet on three levels -- “are ideal for a brewery,” said Nelson. What a coincidence: Fitger’s brewmaster Dave Hoops and his crew could use the extra real estate.
“We’re out of capacity to expand at Fitger’s,” said Nelson. “We just can’t keep up with supply, beer-wise, and that’s a good problem to have.”
The plan is to convert the building’s street level into a production facility for Fitger’s most popular mainstay brews -- its El Nino IPA, Lighthouse blonde ale and Big Boat oatmeal stout , among others-- a strategy that would open up opportunities at the cramped Fitger’s Brewhouse for more esoteric small-batch brews.
The building’s second floor, with its Lake Superior views, could be converted into special events space. Nothing is set in stone, but “We will have a full implementation plan in place by April and construction will happen in 2013,” said Nelson.
Given all that activity, it’s not a surprise that Fitger’s is bowing out of its Minneapolis plans.
“We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” said Nelson. “We’ve decided that it’s best to regroup and focus on what we’re doing here in Duluth.”