With video: Bell's Brewery announces $52M expansion over next six years
Published: Friday, September 10, 2010, 11:30 PM Updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010, 6:53 AM
An initial $17 million will be invested largely in 2011 to expand the Comstock Township brewhouse, add fermenting capacity, enhance employee care areas and provide space and equipment for some new specialty fermentations, Bell said Friday.
That work is expected to be completed by early 2012.
Bell said another $35 million will be spent through 2016 to build out and equip the additional 60,000 square feet of floor space at Bell's Brewery Inc., 8938 Krum Ave., Comstock.
The projects are aimed at accommodating the company’s goal of 20 percent annual growth, Bell said.
The plans were detailed at a press conference Friday at the beer garden behind the brewery’s Eccentric Cafe, 335 E. Kalamazoo Ave., the site for the company’s 25th anniversary celebration this weekend.
While business investment in Michigan has suffered during the economic downturn, Bell credited an “on fire” craft beer market for his expansion plans.
“We’ve seen a 24 percent increase in our Michigan sales,” said Bell. “We do business in 18 states, but Michigan is our No. 1 state” for sales.
The Kalamazoo entrepreneur said craft beer remains an “affordable luxury” for people who are squeezing their budgets.
“For $10, you can buy a six-pack of what is the world’s best beer,” he said. “A bottle of the world’s best wine can cost you a thousand bucks.”
Bell told about 50 employees and Bell’s Beer loyalists that the downtown Kalamazoo cafe expansion underway now is expected to cost about $3 million when it’s completed in early 2011. The original budget was about half that, according to Bell.
“It’s going to be an awesome space,” he said.
Bell began brewing beer as a lone entrepreneur 25 years ago in a 15-gallon soup kettle.
This year, 115,000 barrels of Bell’s brands will be sold, an increase of 167 percent in the last five years.
“In this business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Bell told Friday’s anniversary crowd.
The company now employs 115 people, who operate the 33-acre Comstock Township brewery or work at the downtown Kalamazoo cafe or an Isabella County farm where the company grows barley used in its brewing.
Bell said architectural plans for the next phase of Comstock Township expansion are ready and brewing equipment is expected to be lined up when company officials attend a November trade show in Germany.
The initial $17 million phase is expected to be competed in six months.
It was an emotional Bell who raised a cup of his beer in a toast Friday to “everyone who has touched the brewery,” from Kalamazoo municipal workers who keep the water supplied, to the bottle and label makers, to the delivery drivers and pub owners.
Bell’s Beer T-shirts dotted Friday’s crowd, representing a progression of apparel the company has hawked with its libations over 25 years.
The owner admitted he had conducted an “archeological dig” to unearth his own, original circa-1986 T-shirt.
“The only problem is, it’s a medium,” Bell said, acknowledging his shirt size has expanded with the business.
Contact Kathy Jessup at email@example.com or 269-388-8590.
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