By Michael Bushnell
Ryan Maybee and Andy Rieger announced at a Tuesday morning East Bottoms press conference that their craft distilling company J. Rieger has purchased the historic Ferd Heim Bottling Plant, with plans to drastically increase their production and the public presence in the now burgeoning East Bottoms neighborhood.
The bottling plant was built in 1901 as part of Heim Brewery, an iconic early 20th century local beer. Following the passage of the Volstead Act in 1919, however, the brewery began to fall on hard times and ultimately closed in the 1920s. The Heim Bottling Plant was designed by Charles A. Smith, a prominent Kansas City architect, and constructed by the local firm of Hucke and Sexton.
The bottling plant was once part of the Ferd Heim Brewery, the largest brewery west of the Mississippi River when it was completed in 1901. In addition to the brewery, the four Heim brothers built the city’s first Electric Park just to the north of the brewery in order to increase the brand’s visibility and to sell directly to the public in the park’s beer gardens. The park was so popular the brothers constructed a rail line from downtown directly to the park in order to increase attendance at what was commonly known as Kansas City’s Great White Way.
The plans for the reimagined bottling plant include a huge first-floor gallery that will allow visitors to see the distilling process as it happens. Also on the first-floor, visitors will be able to sample the various Rieger products and tour the newly-expanded distilling facility that will feature four stills and five 2500 gallon fermenting tanks. Daily tours, tasting areas, a visitor space with a museum and gift shop will also be a part of the expanded development. Roughly 30 news jobs will be created by the expansion.
The news comes on the heels of major announcements from both The Local Pig and Urban Provisions; both occupied retail space at the corner of Montgall and Guinotte Avenues, directly across from the old bottling plant. Urban Provisions recently moved to the Crossroads District and Local Pig is planning a move to the City Market in the old Winslow’s BBQ space. Alex Pope, owner of The Local Pig, noted Tuesday that while his departure from the East Bottoms may be imminent, the decision was difficult to say the least.
“We looked at retrofitting this building as well as the possibility of picking up the old Town Topic, but it just wasn’t to be,” said Pope on KCUR’s Central Standard program on Tuesday morning.
In addition to the old bottling plant, Rieger also purchased a one-acre plat directly across the street to the west which will be used for parking. Work is slated to start on the expansion later this week.