Tulsa native Ken Alexander has spent the past 35 years designing restaurants all over the country, as well as traveling around the world and sampling the hospitality various countries have to offer.
But it wasn't until he found himself sitting on a deck a few years ago in Hawaii, watching the sun sink into the ocean and sipping on a locally produced Kona beer, that he had that proverbial "a-ha" moment he'd been waiting for.
"It occurred to me a destination can be defined by its beer," he said.
With that thought in mind, Alexander returned home to Sand Springs, where he had settled, and started putting together a project that reflected the epiphany he had had in Hawaii. For years, Alexander said, he had been passing by the former Sand Springs Power, Light & Water Building at the corner of Main Street and Morrow Road on his daily commute, and the architect in him long had recognized the building's considerable potential. He just couldn't figure out how to harness it.
The final piece in the puzzle came during a bike ride on the Katy Trail, Alexander said. That trip took him past a small, gurgling spring -- the original artesian water source for which Sand Springs is named, he noted -- and, after a little more thinking, the whole thing came together.
Alexander decided to buy the old power station and convert it into a production brewery, restaurant and bar, and events center. That was the origin of what Alexander is now calling the Spring Loaded Brewery, so named because the beer will be loaded with pure spring water.
Alexander and his partners went public with their plans at a press conference on Nov. 9 inside the 30,000-square-foot building they closed on in September. They hope to have their $5.5 million project open by early to mid summer of 2011.
"As of today, I guess we've really got to do it," Alexander said, smiling, after the press conference.
Strictly speaking, the Spring Loaded Brewery will not be a brewpub, an entity that is limited by state law to producing 3.2 beer. Instead, Alexander said, it will follow the model established by Joe Prichard of the Choc Brewery and Pete's Place in Krebs in southeast Oklahoma.
Alexander will have to sell the strong beer produced by the Spring Loaded Brewery to a wholesale distributor, then buy it back in order to serve it to customers in the restaurant, bar and events center. The beer will literally go out one door for delivery to the distributor for 24 hours, then come back in another, having changed hands twice.
"It seems beyond silly," Alexander said, though he acknowledged those are the vagaries of Oklahoma's Byzantine liquor laws, which are all codified in the state Constitution and require the approval of voters before they can be changed.
The Spring Loaded Brewery founder and CEO has hopes of streamlining state law at some point to allow production breweries with corresponding restaurant operations to function as the state's wineries do. Voters approved a change to state law several years ago that permits them to sell their products to visitors without first going through a wholesaler, a move that many observers believe has allowed Oklahoma wineries to flourish.
"It seems to be being on par with wineries is not too much to ask," he said. "I think we can get that done, but I don't know when."
In the meantime, Alexander has more pressing concerns. He's seeking federal tax credits that will help him complete the financing for his project, credits that often are applied to renovations of historic properties such as this one. The Sand Springs Power, Light & Water Building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the building's west end will mark its 100th anniversary next year.
"It would be very hard to make this happen without those (tax credits)," he said.
Alexander is optimistic about earning those. He said officials from the state Office of Historic Preservation in Oklahoma City have been very supportive of the brewery.
"They're thrilled somebody in this part of the country decided to save an industrial building," he said. "That hardly ever happens in this part of the country."
A quick look inside the building -- now known as the SpringLoaded Building -- reveals why Alexander considers it the perfect home for his project. It's thick, red brick walls tower up to 50 feet in some instances, and an abundance of natural light bathes much of the building's interior in a warm glow, particularly the 4,500-square foot brewhouse on the south side. Alexander plans on installing a 30-barrel stainless-steel brewing system that will have an annual capacity of 30,000 barrels. He's planning on bringing in a brewing engineer from Denver to help him with the design of the brewhouse, and he said he's already soliciting resumes from brewmasters around the world.
The restaurant will be located on the north side, with seating for 225 patrons, a bar that overlooks the brewhouse and a patio warmed by fireplaces. Alexander plans to offer recipes that emphasize locally grown products and beer ingredients.
The events center, known as the Dynamo Room, is located in the building's northeast corner and encompasses 8,100 square feet. It will seat 750 people for concerts, but will also be made available for private parties, corporate functions, cultural events, festivals and wedding receptions.
Eventually, Alexander estimates, the SpringLoaded Building will employ up to 225 people.
"To me, the significant thing of what we're doing here boils down to this: as an architect, typically the client has a concept, and you design a building to fit that concept," he said. "In this case, we had a building and had to design the concept for the building."
But it isn't just the building itself that makes this such an attractive opportunity, he said. The site is in a prime location, he believes -- adjacent to the planned 30-acre RiverWest Shopping Center and only one block north of the Arkansas River, where a low-water dam will be put in place using Vision 2025 funds, creating an 8-mile-long lake.
The city is planning a number of street enhancements, as well, and the railroad tracks that run just to the north of the SpringLoaded Building will someday service a light-rail commuter system that ties into downtown Tulsa, Alexander hopes. He believes Sand Springs has considerable untapped potential that is about to be tapped.
"When I saw those dots begin to be connected, I began to research the beer industry," Alexander said, explaining how he developed the concept for the SpringLoaded Brewery.
Still, it wasn't an easy decision to move forward, he said.
"As a restaurant architect, I said I'd never own a restaurant," he said. "But when I saw this building and saw the synergy of these three things together, I knew it was the right thing to do -- even though I wouldn't do any one of them separately."
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