Coop Ale move to turn former armory into a 'world class destination'
The vision for the Coop Ale Works redevelopment of the former 45th Infantry Armory has expanded to include a speakeasy and a lounge on the production floor.
Daniel Mercer, CEO of Coop Ale Works, also announced during a presentation to the Rotary 29 Club the nine-acre development will be completed by the time the city’s new convention center opens in late 2020.
Coop Ale, currently located at 4745 Council Heights, was chosen last summer by the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services to purchase and develop the landmark at 200 NE 23 with a plan to turn the armory into a brewery, hotel, restaurant and event venue.
COOP was the third craft beer brewery opened in Oklahoma after the company was started a decade ago. The operation started with just its three founders, only one of whom worked in the brewery while the other two retained their day jobs.
Growing the business took hard work and some risks, Mercer said, admitting those early years were “unhappy” times where the brew floor hit 135 degrees and the crew was lucky to escape injury when a 14-foot-tall, 5,000-pound tank being moved with straps came crashing down.
Mercer said the operation has long moved on from those moments that also included what he called “shaky” brewing equipment. But until changes in liquor laws went into effect last year, financing the brewery’s growth remained complicated.
“Despite every bank in the state being interested in our armory project on 23rd Street, no bank was interested in any part of our business in 2012,” Mercer said. “We were growing in double digit and triple digit clips.”
A decade after the brewery was launched near NW 51 and Western Avenue, Mercer sees the Armory becoming a regional destination. The $28.7 million redevelopment has been expanded to include the former Veterans Administration building just east of the Armory.
The evolution of the project resulted in 12 of the hotel rooms to be located in the one-story, T-shaped VA building that will include a basement speakeasy, and a pool and lounge open to guests and the public.
The Armory, meanwhile, will include the remaining 16 rooms on the floors overlooking the production floor with the opposite side of the building to be home to a restaurant and event venue.
Mercer said the two wings will be connected via a 4,000-square-foot lounge and taproom on the production floor that will be separated from the brewing operations by a 105-foot-long glass wall. An observation deck, with seating for 80 and an array of games, will be located atop the wall overlooking the brewery.
“It’s come a long way,” Mercer said. “Really, what we’re looking at is a world class destination. It’s moved from bolting hotel rooms onto a brewery to how can we create a magnet for this part of the community.”
Mercer promised to honor the history of the 45th Infantry and the building’s architecture, which includes an exposed steel truss roof and redwood decking.
The 1935 art deco armory is a prominent landmark linking Uptown 23rd with the State Capitol and is within walking distance of Automobile Alley and several historic neighborhoods.
The building was constructed of recycled penitentiary bricks and the interior has concrete floors, steel joists and fire-resistant construction. The armory consists of offices, classrooms, a barrel-roofed drill hall and several garages with overhead door entry.
Mercer said Coop is set to hire 130 people over the next two years as it expands to meet growing demand over its six-state distribution area. He estimates the economic impact of the new brewery will top $300 million over five years. Studies indicate the brewery taproom and restaurant will draw 150,000 people a year.
He cites Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City as an example of how a destination brewery can revive a depressed area and predicted the Armory will spur additional development in the vicinity of the State Capitol.
“Believe it or not, there are people who get on tour buses and visit breweries,” Mercer said. “And the hotel brings a totally different element. The number of visitors we will bring in from out of state will be substantial.”