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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Georgetown worries it'll be the next big thing

Seattle Times staff reporter

What will replace the Stock House?

Sabey Corp. to hold open houses

When: 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Where: General Offices building of old Rainier Brewery, 6004 Airport Way S.

What: Sabey Corp. will show its latest designs for a building that would replace the Stock House portion of the old brewery.

Artist Laura Wright considers herself lucky: She fled pricey San Francisco for Seattle's Georgetown community nearly a decade ago when the gritty little neighborhood just south of downtown Seattle was an affordable haven for struggling artists, not to mention hookers and drug dealers.

No longer. The forces of gentrification that transformed other working-class parts of Seattle are now rumbling through its industrial heartland, prompting many to wonder if the city's working class will mount its last stand in Georgetown.

"Our city is in danger of losing its soul, and right now, Georgetown is the soul of Seattle," says Larry Reid, who runs the Fantagraphics comic-book store in Georgetown. It's "really the last outpost of the blue-collar, bohemian, industrial-arts community in Seattle."

Others embrace the growth. "The increase in density is going to make Georgetown a viable place to live," says resident Lori Anderson, who would like the neighborhood to have its own grocery store.

The Rainier Brewery

The most visible symbol of the debate is Georgetown's iconic Rainier Brewery on Airport Way South — which in its heyday nearly a century ago was the world's sixth-largest brewery, making Seattle synonymous with beer long before it was known for coffee. Until recently, the brewery's brick facade spanned the length of more than two football fields.

That changed in January, when the property's owner, Sabey Corp., began tearing down the brewery's Stock House, which was cracked and leaning precariously.

The prominent real-estate company, which plans to replace the Stock House with a five-story office building and street-level retail, will unveil its latest design at open houses Thursday and Friday.

Last fall, the tight-knit neighborhood rejected Sabey's initial design as too lacking in character for Georgetown, one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods. Crisscrossed by railway tracks, freight trucks and airplanes, Georgetown is a funky mix of machine shops, truck yards and factories, interspersed with modest houses.

It's also defined by a cohesiveness that comes from being squeezed into a small area, one bounded by a ship channel, Boeing Field and freeways.

While the gentrification happening now is similar in many respects to what's gone before in Seattle's Fremont, Belltown and Columbia City neighborhoods, what's different in Georgetown is that the change has the potential to break up the largest cluster of manufacturing and heavy industry in Seattle.

Saving industrial property has become a priority for Mayor Greg Nickels, who successfully introduced legislation last year to restrict office and retail growth on industrial lands. Sabey's redevelopment was approved before the legislation passed.

John Bennett, who owns many of the storefronts across from the old brewery in Georgetown, says the fears that Georgetown will become the next Fremont are overblown.

"No matter what, we still have planes, trains and automobiles, so it's never going to be the 'perfect neighborhood,' " Bennett said.

Even so, the historic center of old Georgetown is already seeing a number of new shops, many of them in Bennett's buildings.

The businesses include a yoga studio, upscale furniture stores and, soon, trendy foodie destinations such as Via Tribunali, a pizzeria with locations on Queen Anne and Capitol Hill.

Still, many locals remain committed to holding onto some of Georgetown's heritage, including the stump of the Stock House wall, which Sabey has yet to demolish.

"That wall has withstood a fire, an earthquake, and decades of neglect," says Holly Krejci, head of the neighborhood community council. "To me, it represents the very essence of Georgetown — the ability to survive despite all odds."

"Into Seattle's past"

Industries that thrived here in the 19th century — railroads, heavy machine shops and beer-making — still exist.

"When you go into Georgetown, you're going into Seattle's past," says Leonard Garfield, executive director of the Museum of History & Industry.

In the late 1800s, developer Julius Horton sold lots in the Georgetown area to German immigrants and named the area after the medical school his son attended.

Around 1901, construction began on a massive brewery that made Rainier Beer. The plant expanded over a decade, becoming the largest on the West Coast.

Breweries shut down after Washington outlawed alcohol in 1916. After Prohibition ended, Rainier Beer was made again a few miles up the road in SoDo, at what now is home to Tully's Coffee.

At the old brewery in Georgetown, the cellars in the plant's Stock House were converted by a new owner to cold storage and ice-making, activities that essentially continued through 2003, said Jim Harmon, senior vice president of investments at Sabey Corp.

But the slab below the Stock House wasn't designed to handle below-freezing temperatures, Harmon said, and the ground below froze. When the freezer was turned off in 2003, the land began to thaw and the brick building began to sink and crack.

"We came to the conclusion that this building couldn't be saved," Harmon said.

Georgetown's new face

Sabey, which bought the entire brewery property for nearly $10 million in 2006, is keen on redeveloping it into office, retail and residences that would fit into the neighborhood's character.

Harmon says Sabey could lease the newly constructed space to creative businesses — from designers to aeronautical-engineering firms to companies in the music industry.

He said Sabey also may convert the unoccupied upper two stories of the plant's Malt House into apartments or condos, but would continue leasing the lower stories and space in the Bottling Plant to artists and small industrial users.

Sabey is also hosting the Georgetown Super 8 Film Festival on April 19.

"We love Georgetown," Harmon said. "We are looking to simply fold into and be a part of that community in a manner that respects what it is while allowing it to become its own future."

Many residents support the changes.

"This renaissance that's happening down here, people are really proud of it," said Joel Benjamin, who bought a house three years ago and opened a yoga studio near the old brewery.

But not everybody. Wright, the artist who moved to Georgetown from San Francisco, said she's sad to see fellow artists being priced out of town.

"I'm just watching this city become more and more sterile, you know, and too expensive to live in," she said.

Small family-owned industrial businesses also are nervous about being priced out of their space — a real threat if industrial land isn't preserved, said Dave Gering, executive director of the Georgetown-based Manufacturing Industrial Council.

"Our folks join our group because they like being in an industrial business," Gering said. "They love Seattle and they want to stay."

Georgetown Brewing Co., which makes Manny's Pale Ale, recently purchased a warehouse in the neighborhood because it realized it would soon be priced out of the market if it kept renting.

Others say the gentrification of Seattle's industrial land is a natural outcome of growth and that homeowners will put pressure on manufacturers to leave.

"As this neighborhood grows, it's going to be harder and harder for them to get in there with their big trucks," Bennett said. Homeowners "don't want an eighteen-wheeler coming through while their kids play on the sidewalk."

Councilmember Sally Clark, who oversees a land-use-policy committee, says there's room for industry and homeowners to coexist in Georgetown.

"There are a lot of folks who are looking for something that can't be shined up and destroyed by its own hipness," she said.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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