Founded in Milwaukee in 1844, the Pabst Brewing Company’s flagship beer earned its name during the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago, where it was awarded the blue ribbon as America’s best beer. However, economic realities began to catch up with the company in recent years, and they closed their massive Milwaukee brewery in 1996, transferring all production to the Miller company in 2001. However, after decades of declining sales, around 2001 Pabst Brewing Company sales executives discovered sales of Pabst Blue Ribbon were beginning to pick up in unlikely places — cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, and the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. The beer’s low price and working class cachet had led to a modest rebound in popularity among hipsters across the country.
From the start, the brewery’s former facility in Milwaukee was eyed for redevelopment. Located adjacent downtown Milwaukee, the complex contains a collection of ornate 19th century buildings almost begging to be converted into hip lofts. The first redevelopment proposal, a $300 million behemoth called PabstCity centered around the conversion of the complex into an entertainment district, collapsed when city officials voted down the subsidies demanded by the developer. The project became controversial in the city as citizens questioned the long-term viability of the plan, and its potential impact on downtown. Since I first wrote about the PabstCity project on this website, hundreds of people looking for more information have found their way to the site from search engines.
A year and a half after the first deal collapsed, real estate investor Joseph Zilber purchased the land and design work for $13 million. He moved quickly to draft plans for a much more pragmatic scheme to redevelop the complex into a mixed-use district with multiple owners. City officials approved the plan last year, and an official groundbreaking was held in January. Although unfortunately isolated from surrounding neighborhoods on two sides by freeways, the project seems on track to become a successful rehabilitation of a unique collection of historic buildings. The project’s first residential building, dubbed Blue Ribbon Lofts, will target low-to-moderate income artists and entrepreneurs. Other buildings will contain offices, shops, and yes, even possibly a brew pub.
> The Brewery Project Website
> Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Pabst Project Moves Ahead (8/06), Pabst Revamp Coming Together (1/07)
> Undercity: Abandoned Pabst Brewery
> Previously: Pabst City? (2003), Pabst City Project Falls Through (2005)
Photos courtesy The Brewery