From Blighted to Booming, Anaheim Boulevard Buzzing From Beer

Unpacking the History of the Packing District

A stretch of Anaheim Boulevard known as the Packing District is one of the most popular spots to hang out in the Orange County city of Anaheim. While the market rebirth started with the arrival of Anaheim Brewery, it's been fueled by much more than beer.

The Packing District draws its name from its historic location as a former citrus processing center early last century. One of the largest buildings used for packing the produce for transit -- built in 1919 and known today as the Packing House -- remained intact over the years, even as the industry had shuttered there.

Eventually, a state redevelopment agency armed with about $5 billion in property tax revenue took control of the property. The agency was tasked with helping private developers renew blighted areas. In a partnership between the city and the redevelopment agency, officials began the process of seeking private partnerships to rehab the vacated former citrus packaging site more than a decade ago.

Those efforts eventually helped Anaheim Brewery open its operation in a the back of former Packard car dealership on the property in 2011. Brewery co-owner Barbara Gerovac points to extensive preparations that had to take place before the former car dealership could become a beer production facility.

Today, the brewery employs 10 and produces about 1,000 barrels of beer a year. To prep the site, the floor beneath its barrels, which can weigh nearly half a million pounds, needed to be reinforced with three layers of rebar and 1.5 feet of concrete that took nearly a month to cure.

Gerovac and her husband, Greg, drew on their experience working at other breweries to set up the space. Tanks had to be strategically spread out to ensure enough space to roll out pallets of materials and keep operations properly maintained, while also giving the public visiting the tap room a good view of the equipment.

They also made sure they could add in a silo and still have room to grow.

"If you've maxed out your space on day one, you aren't in the right space," she said.

A year after the brewery opened, fast-casual restaurant chain Umami Burger moved into the former Packard dealership's showroom at the front of the building, catering to the crowds of people sampling the beer next door.

But the area’s larger renewal plan encountered turbulence when the state of California in 2012 did away with its redevelopment funding program, on which much of the planned Anaheim rejuvenation depended. Like most cities impacted by the sudden change, Anaheim was left with a lot of uncertainty about how to move forward as development in the area slowed.

In 2016, Costa Mesa-based developer Shaheen Sadeghi, who heads LAB Holding, purchased the Packing House and three nearby city-owned redevelopment sites, spanning seven acres, for about $10 million, with plans to add more commercial and residential elements to what's already in place. That initial purchase included the old Packard dealership building and the former citrus packing house.

Sadeghi and the city completely overhauled the Spanish Revival-style Packing House into what is now a 42,000-square-foot, two-story food hall containing 25 eateries, presenting visitors with a buzzy and busy vibe on a recent weekday afternoon. Next-door to the food hall, between the Packing House and Packard Building, sits a large new park that hosts regular farmers markets and other special events.

Gerovac points to numerous new elements that have cropped up in the vicinity since she and co-owner Greg opened their doors, marking a continued social and economic transformation of the neighborhood.

"Being part of the Packing District really helps us," Gerovac said. "It's one more cool thing about Anaheim. If you are a tourist and you want a unique experience, this is a great spot to come."

It appears beer is going to play an increasing role in redevelopment of downtown Anaheim.

Last fall, Sadeghi announced plans for another commercial project about a block from the Packing District. The new project, called Leisuretown, is slated to include a brewery and tasting room operated by San Diego-based Modern Times Beer. It is set to open later this year, spanning nearly 32,000 square feet within a renovated historic Craftsman-style structure that originally served as a residence.

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