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March 15, 2016

Capitol Hill couple turns 1920s showroom into Optimism Brewing

Journal Staff Reporter

Photo by Alex Garland [enlarge]
Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig designed the 16,000-square-foot, 20-barrel brew house at 1158 Broadway.

Optimism Brewing Co. on Capitol Hill is inside a 1920 building that was once a showroom for Great Western Motors Co.

Gay Gilmore and her husband, Troy Hakala, co-own the new brewery. Gilmore said she is optimistic about its prospects given the popularity of both craft brewing and the neighborhood.

Tom Kundig of Seattle's Olson Kundig designed the 16,000-square-foot, 20-barrel brew house at 1158 Broadway. Metis Construction was the contractor and Lund Opsahl the structural engineer.

Half of the space is for brewery operations, and half is a taproom.

Gilmore said Kundig's design emphasizes the structure of the single-story building. Optimism has large windows, original board-formed concrete walls, a Douglas fir demising wall, warehouse-style lights and huge stainless steel brewing tanks.

Tables, benches and the bar top are made of wood salvaged from the building's 40-foot-long Douglas fir roof trusses, which were replaced with new steel posts.

Gilmore said it's important that customers can watch brewery staff doing their work. “It's all about feeling like you're in a brewery.”

Optimism has a number of beers on tap. Food is not served, but you can bring your own, have it delivered or buy it from food trucks in the parking lot. There is a room where people can blind taste beers and give feedback, as well as a children's play area and unisex bathrooms. A space for private events is planned in the mezzanine.

Hakala has been a home brewer for over 20 years, with dreams of owning a brewery. He and the staff are still tinkering so for at least the first year, their beer will only be sold in the brewery — not stores.

The Capitol Hill couple met about 15 years ago while working at Microsoft. They later developed Recipezaar.com (now Food.com), and sold it to the Food Network in 2007.

Gilmore said they are Optimism's only investors. She declined to give the project cost.

The couple bought the Great Western building in 2014 after searching for over a year. Gilmore said it was under contract to someone who was going to raze it for an apartment project, but that deal fell through.

The couple later learned that a founder of Seattle Brewing & Malting Co., maker of Rainier Beer, developed the building in 1920 as a car dealership.

Construction of Optimism Brewing's space took nearly two years. Gilmore said the team was initially required to meet the 2014 energy code, as if the space were new construction. That would have meant removing the original single-pane warehouse windows and covering the concrete walls with drywall, she said.

Instead, Gilmore said, they hired WSP Group to do an energy performance analysis that showed that installing extremely energy efficient (and expensive) in-floor, hydronic heating would compensate for having less insulation and single-pane windows. Also, cooling is by natural ventilation and ceiling fans.

To meet current seismic code, big steel bracing and posts with foundations more than 8-feet underground were installed — which was very costly, Gilmore said.

The city gives developers incentives to knock down old buildings, she said, but makes it difficult to rehabilitate them. The city would have allowed an additional story for just preserving the Great Western's facade, she said, but offers nothing for preserving a character building as is. And property taxes on the Optimism building are based in part on the underlying value of the land, which is zoned for six stories, she said.

In an email, Duane Jonlin, energy code and energy conservation advisor for the city, said buildings that are substantially altered such as this one must be brought up close, but not all the way, to current seismic and life safety standards, as well as the energy code.

Jonlin said Seattle aims to be fully carbon-neutral by 2050. He said the city wants projects such as Optimism to have significantly improved energy performance, but gives them flexibility in getting there. They can use energy modeling, as Optimism did, to show their building is not more than 15 percent worse off in terms of energy use than a new building. This, he said, has allowed other projects to keep substantial areas of single-pane glass.

The Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District — where Optimism is — includes the Pike-Pine corridor between Interstate 5 and 15th Avenue East on Capitol Hill.

Dennis Meier, a strategic adviser to the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, said developers who build in the district are allowed one more story on a new construction project if they retain all or parts of “character” (pre-1940) structures on the lot. But most lots are too small to keep entire character structures.

Only one project in the district — AVA Capitol Hill at 600 E. Pike St. — has preserved an entire character structure, which it uses as amenity space, he said. AVA also kept parts of three other character structures on the development site.

The most popular approach is to retain parts of character structures, Meier said, because of the lot size constraint. That, at a minimum, includes preserving the street-facing facades and the older building's original floor-to-ceiling height and volume in the new building. And new construction must be set back so the facade doesn't get lost in the overall project. Meier said some developers do a better job than others at meshing old with new.

Another incentive, he said, is the transfer of development rights. It allows owners of character structures in the district to sell their unused development potential to a project on another lot in the district.

Other options to keep character structures intact, Meier said, would be to pursue a landmark designation, or to make the Pike/Pine district a historic district. However, a historic district would likely be regarded as a significant downzone, he said.

Gilmore said transfer of development rights is not an incentive on Capitol Hill, where she said there have not been any TDR transactions. She said the real incentive is to knock down a building and put up apartments because you get an extra story. Gilmore said if TDR worked, “there ought to be a lot of buildings like ours. I don't see them.”

Gilmore said she is concerned about the character buildings in the area. “I think we could be in a situation where every character structure is just a facade. And that's really sad.”


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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