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Brewery and Restaurant 'Just the Beginning' for Revitalization of Former Cerro Metal Plant

by on February 06, 2020 5:30 PM

In what was once a forge shop, there's a transformation happening, the centerpiece of efforts to date to revitalize the former Cerro Metal Plant in Spring Township.

It's there that in the coming months the new Axemann Brewery, joined by a relocated Blonde Bistro, will open in Plant 1 of what is now known as Titan Park on Axemann Road.

"We are very excited at Axemann to be part of what’s going on at Titan, the revitalization of this facility and this building in particular," Axemann Brewery founder Rod Stahl said. "We’re excited to be a part of what Bellefonte in general is doing as far as growing and having a bit of a renaissance but keeping a lot of the history that made Bellefonte so beautiful."

Stahl expects the brewery to open in April or May. Operating independently but essentially within Axemann will be Blonde Bistro, which is moving from its current location on South Allegheny Street to Titan and will provide restaurant offerings to complement the brewery.

And that's just the start. Joe Leahey, vice president of Titan owner Navitus LLC, said another business, Witches Hollow Cidery has already committed and will open later this year at the opposite end of Plant 1. Meanwhile, Plant 1 still has 60,000 square feet available and the more industrial Plant 4 another 350,000, with potential tenants already expressing interest.

The redevelopment project was recently awarded $2.5 million from the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, funds that will be matched by Navitus for improvements to the site.

"This is just the beginning for the revitalization of this site," state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Guests had their first opportunity to see inside the still-in-progress Axemann Brewery and Blonde Bistro at a press conference on Feb. 6, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

A Great Destination

Stahl had been homebrewing for more than 20 years when he began looking into developing a production brewery where he could produce kegs and cases. But as he began looking at the Titan property, a vision evolved.

"When this space became available we realized it was closer to the population and we could actually have a taproom and do that side of things," Stahl said. "The taproom started growing from a tasting box to a destination place. We realized we’re going to get enough people in here that we need to also have food."

Axemann's new space is expansive, with 25,000 square feet across two floors, outdoor deck seating overlooking Logan Branch and the hillside, and an outdoor space where a tool and dye shop once stood and that Stahl and Leahey are expecting to make enhancements for outdoor events like Oktoberfest. 

Inside there will be an area for larger, outdoor-type games like shuffleboard and cornhole and Stahl expects to host musicians. There's plenty of space for seating, inside and out, and the second floor will offer additional space for private events. That also overlooks the brewery production facilities, a 30-barrel, four-vessel system which can additionally be seen through glass behind the bar.

"The brewhouse itself will brew about 900 gallons of beer at a time and then we’ll ferment between 900 and 1,800 in each vessel," Stahl said.

The beer production facility at Axemann Brewery in Spring Township is a 30-barrel, four-vessel system. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

While the brewery won't ignore the IPAs that dominate so many new breweries and brewpubs, Stahl has a particular interest in German and other old-world-style beers and with 14 taps available, Axemann will offer a diverse selection.

Some of those brews will include Pilatus pilsner, Auger Vienna lager, Blonde Bistro Belgian tripel, Titan Stout, Moon Dog Double, Black Razz wheat, Hazy Daisy New England IPA, Mean Duck pale ale, Axemann Festbier, and, what may be the signature brew, Blue Stripe Kölsch.

Ray Dobens, a Central Pennsylvania native who now operates the North Carolina-based Ray's Brewery Solutions, has been working with Stahl on a one-year consulting contract to help get the brewery started. He said while the trend may have been toward IPAs and newer American styles, a brewery owner can benefit from producing quality old world styles. 

"Rod is a big fan of German beers. That’s part of his vision and what he wants to do," said Dobens, who learned to brew while living in Bellefonte. "Not many people are making a Kölsch. To ace that style is rare, and I really think Rod and his partner Stephen (Hirlinger) do an excellent job making that particular beer. I’m hoping, and I’m confident, I can help them make that in 30-barrel batches. Because it’s not a small task. There’s nothing to hide behind. It’s very basic. It’s two malts, water and yeast. There’s not a lot of hops in it. So anything you do well or poorly shines through in that type of beer."

Axemann Brewery owner Rod Stahl, left, and consultant Ray Dobens pour samples for guests at a preview event on Feb. 6, 2020. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

Stahl said just through word of mouth he has already received a great deal of interest from people and organizations wanting to hold events at the brewery.

The space has an updated look but maintains its industrial character. Stahl said it will also pay homage to the building's history and environment, with signage and graphics based on three themes. One is the water resources, with the stream, springs and pond that surround the property and played a vital role in the history of the plant and Bellefonte. Another will be based around the process of making beer. And the third will be about the history of the plant, which dates back to 1915 and has been known as Alpha, Titan, Cerro and Bolton Metal throughout its history, before the last of its production facilities shut down in 2011.

One of those homages is already apparent: the base of the bar is made from the numbered, green wooden lockers once used by employees of the metal plant.

It's all coming together to make Axemann an attraction.

"We wanted to create a great destination here for Bellefonte residents but also visitors, tourists coming into this area."

The base of Axemann Brewery bar is made from the wooden locker doors used by workers at the former Cerro/Bolton Metal Plant. Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com

Building from the Past and Looking to the Future

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, noted that at its peak, the metal plant employed more than 700 people, family-sustaining jobs that were once vital to Bellefonte and surrounding towns.

"My biggest worry was that some day somebody would say, 'Let’s just flatten this,' and thankfully we didn’t," Benninghoff said. "There’s naturally occurring springs here; there’s dual energy; we’ve got a rail service that went through this building; and we have a beautiful waterway right beside us."

Like other Bellefonte locales before it — the Cadillac Building, the Garman, the former Bush House site — Titan Park is receiving some help from state funds because, Corman said, it's the type of older property that's unique, but that today private businesses likely would not find made financial sense to redevelop solely on their own.

"When the private sector can’t do certain things because the financials just don’t make sense, we have a choice as taxpayers," Corman said. "We can step in and close that gap so we can revitalize these types of sites, or do we allow them just to sit as empty or burned out buildings for the remainder of time? I’m a big believer that there’s some point in time for the taxpayers to come in and close that gap to revitalize brownfield sites and give them new life."

Leahey said the RACP funding will be used for building improvements to Plants 1 and 4 to make them more energy efficient and inviting to prospective tenants. That will be primarily for new roofing and building envelope that will allow the spaces to be properly heated and cooled.

"A new tenant coming in isn’t going to have to absorb that. They’re just going to have to fit in what they need," Leahey said. "The Blonde Bistro, they came into Rod’s space. The only thing they really needed to do was put up walls and the equipment they need for their space. It’s probably the cheapest space they could get because to get the kitchen inside they didn’t have to put the roof on."

The cidery, which also will be an event space, is still about six to eight months away from opening, Leahey said. For the remaining space in Plant 1, Titan has received interest from artists, entrepreneurs and businesses including engineering and architectural firms. The building has space for machinery and being next to the brewery is a recruiting tool, Leahey said.

Plant 4 is for heavier industrial, with high ceilings and overhead cranes. A tech company is interested in some of the space because of the large power and cooling availability, and the plant may be of interest to additive manufacturers and other industries who, Leahey said, can "go into the space drop, the equipment and we could have it hooked up in a month."

Ultimately, Navitus, a corporate partnership between Shaner Capital and G.M. McCrossin, expects that once redevelopment is completed, Titan Energy Park will be home once again to family-sustaining jobs while playing a major role in the growing revitalization of the Bellefonte area.

"When this factory closed down, a lot left here," Leahey said. "This gives a destination for people to start coming back to do things. I foresee (the brewery) and the other businesses that are thinking of moving in here as creating that kind of place to go to. It’s going to revitalize this whole little area to where on a weekend people aren’t driving out of Centre County, they are driving into Centre County."

Axemann Brewery will offer a variety of beer styles.  Photo by Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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