Ben Self and his business partners searched a long time to find a place to open a craft brewery before they found the old Rainbo Bread bakery building at West Sixth and Jefferson streets.
Captivated by the century-old brick warehouse on the edge of the historical Northside neighborhood, the young entrepreneurs bought the building for $550,000 in August.
But the Bread Box, as they called their warehouse, was nearly 90,000 square feet — way larger than they needed for their now-open West Sixth Brewing Co. and tap room.
What could they do with the excess space?
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"We had to expand our vision beyond the brewery and look to a model of community development," Self said. "Our sole goal was never just to make money."
The partners plan to donate 6 percent of net profits to local charities. They want to be an example of environmental responsibility and support local organizations.
So they looked for tenants "who share some of our same values," Self said, and they found them.
The tenant mix now includes Rollergirls of Central Kentucky; Broke Spoke community bicycle repair shop; artists' studios; Cricket Press; and FoodChain, a non-profit indoor urban farm that is raising tilapia in tanks and growing leafy greens.
There is space available on the first floor that's suitable for a restaurant, and there's space on the second floor.
The Rollergirls searched for years for their own practice spot because they need so much floor space. The non-profit now leases 12,000 square feet in the Bread Box.
"We have a real sense of giving back to the community and empowering women in sports," skater Diane Crossfield said. "We met with Ben, and we share many of his values. It's a good fit."
The Bread Box is the kind of economic development project the city government hopes to encourage in other parts of Lexington, said Derek Paulson, commissioner of planning.
"The reason this works is it's so authentic," Paulson said. "The Broke Spoke is a phenomenal project that works great with the brewery. When the Legacy Trail opens (and will go by the Broke Spoke's back door), people can stop there to repair their bikes, or while out biking, stop by for a cool one."
Paulson said, "I applaud them for taking a chance on that building and in that part of town."
The increased foot traffic is pushing criminal activity out of the immediate neighborhood, he said. Beyond just the Bread Box, bike polo teams practice in nearby Coolavin Park, where an international women's bike polo competition this spring attracted 300 competitors from around the world.
Bread Box partners — Self, Joe Kuosman, Brady Barlow and Robin Sither — also bought a small building across West Sixth that now houses a small inner-city grocery store.
"We did that so we could control the use of that building," Self said.
The changes at the Bread Box's end of Jefferson mirror those that have occurred on the southern end of the street, near Main Street, where several restaurants, a wine shop and a deli have opened in recent years. Small clapboard houses have been renovated and painted in bright colors.
"I see the Bread Box ushering in a great deal of change into that area," Paulson said.
Not too many years ago, developers thought of converting a building like the Rainbo Bakery into housing or retail space.
"The Bread Box guys have found uses that are light industry but don't threaten the neighborhood," said Jeff Fugate, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. "West Sixth has created jobs. It has integrated with the neighborhood and put life back into an old building that was a drag on the surrounding area."
The brewery now has six beers on tap and brews several times a week. Recently, it started selling its double premium IPA in cans and growler jugs. Customers can sit indoors or at tables on the sidewalk.
The entire venture — buying and renovating the building and starting the brewery — was financed with private capital. No city funds or state incentives were used to renovate the building.
Any number of similar buildings can be found on Delaware and National avenues and Manchester Street.
"The key is thinking of new uses for old buildings, instead of taking them down," Fugate said.