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End of an era for iconic Molson brewery on Vancouver's False Creek

End of an era for iconic Molson brewery on Vancouver's False Creek

The iconic Molson brewery building at 1550 Burrard Street in Vancouver on November 5, 2015. After nearly 60 years in operation, producing hundreds of millions of litres of beer, the landmark brewery at the foot of Burrard Bridge is being closed and will move to another location in B.C.

VANCOUVER – It is last call for the Molson Coors brewery in Vancouver, one of the last major industries on the south side of False Creek.

After nearly 60 years in operation, producing hundreds of millions of litres of beer, the landmark brewery at the foot of Burrard Bridge is being closed and will move to another location in B.C.

The company confirmed Thursday it has sold the three-hectare property for an undisclosed sum but that it remains committed to building a new, more efficient plant elsewhere in the province. The sale doesn’t close until early 2016 and the company says it will continue to lease back the property from the new owner until it has a new location.

Molson Coors would not disclose the selling price, but Vancouver real estate experts estimate it is in the range of $190 million.

But don’t think that the closure of the brewery means a forest of tall condo towers will spring up in its place. The site is zoned as industrial and is listed in the Metro Vancouver regional context statement as a job-generating location, and the city says it has little interest in changing that.

“It is clear that it is in the City of Vancouver’s regional context statement as industrial land,” said Kent Munro, the city’s assistant director of planning. “We’ve had people asking about the site and its potential, but we say it is very important industrial land in the city after years of eroding it.”

Munro said the city doesn’t view the area as being appropriate for more condos.

“Any intensification of industrial or employment uses would be bang on and we would be supportive of it,” he said. “I think it is the city’s intent to keep it as employment-generating land use down there in a great location, close to where people live and close to the city centre.”

The decision to sell the land and clear out of Vancouver is a complete turnaround from company promises a few years ago. In a 2011 interview with the Vancouver Courier, Geoff Molson, a company director and great-great-great-great grandson of founder John Molson, insisted the brewery was not going anywhere.

“It supplies the west and we need it,” Molson told the Courier. “It’s a good, strong performing brewery. We’re investing in this brewery to make it even stronger. Regardless of the value of the real estate underneath us, it’s a brewery we consider important for our current network.”

Jennifer Kerr, a spokeswoman for Molson Coors, said the company “remains committed to the B.C. market” and will build a more efficient plant elsewhere.

The Burrard brewery has been both a beachhead in B.C. for Molson Coors’ Canadian operations and an icon in Canadians’ collective love affair with beer. For years, the pungent aroma of barley and hops floating over the entrance to False Creek was synonymous with strong blue-collar employment and the production of an everyman’s drink.

But as of late, the company has struggled as the rise of the craft brew market, supported by government subsidies and taxation policies, has eaten into its market share. Last year, Molson Coors shut down its bottling line in Vancouver only six years after a $32-million refit that included seven new fermentation tanks and a bottling line from the company’s now-closed Edmonton brewery. The renovation increased the plant’s production capacity by more than 40 per cent to 2.1 million hectolitres a year, or about 600 million bottles. It also raised the employment of the plant to 214, along with a sales staff of 44.

But the plant now only fills kegs and cans. Kerr declined to share production information, saying it is proprietary. When Molson Coors celebrated the brewery’s 50th anniversary in 2008, it said it had more than 40 per cent of the national beer market but just over 30 per cent of B.C. beer sales.

The brewery was first built in 1953 by the Sick family, well-known industrialists in Western Canada and Washington who created Old Style Pilsner and other brands. Molsons took over the plant in 1958, when it bought all six western Canadian breweries operated by the Sicks.

Brent Toderian, a former Vancouver director of planning, said the brewery site is important as a job-generator and he hopes the city encourages the new owner to keep it that way.

“I’m not someone who necessarily immediately concludes that this is good news. I am someone who starts from the perspective that it is good for the city when we can keep manufacturing jobs in the city,” he said.

He noted a survey his department did a few years ago found that only 10 per cent of the city’s lands were “pure job lands” that didn’t include housing. But they were responsible for producing 50 per cent of the jobs.

“I am not saying that this (sale) is something that should be a source of deep concern but what I am saying is I don’t immediately celebrate the news. My first reaction is to feel some disappointment that another major employer is leaving the inner city. ”


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