Brewery opening signals the future for Santa Fe Depot,

Cypress Street neighborhood

October 2016

Wil Dee, right, and Brian Thorson, opened Chapman Crafted to help kick start the revitalization of the Santa Fe Depot, a historic neighborhood west of the Orange Plaza.

By Daniel Langhorne

Someone could easily walk past Chapman Crafted Brewing Co. and not know it’s there, save for the signature red star encircled by the letter “C” that’s emblazoned on a box truck parked out front. Co-founder Wil Dee says that’s about to change.

When Dee first walked the Cypress Street property in 2013 with Lisa Kim, Orange’s director of economic development, he saw opportunity in the strategic location between the bustling Orange Plaza and the city’s Metrolink station.

Orange City Manager Rick Otto said the city was excited to help Dee find the ideal site because of his success in co-founding Haven Gastropub and Provisions Market.

Several years ago, shuttered warehouses, a vehicle storage lot, and three modest single-family homes on the 100 block of North Cypress Street, the home of Chapman Crafted, gave many Orange residents the impression of a blighted neighborhood. Lodged between the busy Orange Plaza, with its trendy restaurants, and the Santa Fe Depot’s earthshaking Metrolink trains, the neighborhood seemed left behind.

Movin’ on up

Chapman University has made progress in bringing new vitality to the area by developing its Marion Knott Studios, Partridge Dance Center, Digital Media Arts Center, West Campus Parking Structure and, most recently, the temporary home of the Hilbert Museum of California Art.

Another large piece of puzzle will fall into place with the early-2017 groundbreaking of a new parking structure being developed by Orange and the Orange County Transportation Authority. The structure will primarily serve Metrolink commuters, but will also allow for some public use, especially during the busy evening hours.

Dee said he is looking forward to the potential for construction of new commercial buildings on Chapman Avenue and Lemon Street after the parking structure opens. His vision is to be a local family-owned business that pro-duces world-class beer.

“I chose to be here with my wife, and now my son,” Dee said. “We have our best opportunity here for Orange County and the brewery.”

Dee is not in this venture alone. At the heart of Chapman Crafted is chief brewmaster Brian Thorson, an industry-respected brewer who was trained at the UC Davis Master Brewers program, and has worked in Boston and Northern California.  Randy Nelson is the brewery’s third partner, and a major investor.

Residents overlooked?

The brewery hasn’t received a warm welcome from some of the neighboring, long-time homeowners. Mario Alvarado’s family has owned a small historic home on the same block for generations. Alvarado is frustrated that Orange didn’t force the brewery to provide more onsite parking.

Alvarado wants to sell his house on Cypress Street and move to a neighborhood in North Orange, but believes he’s being low-balled by real estate speculators.

“Personally, I’d like to sell and get out of here, because I only see it getting worse,” he said. Alvarado believes the redevelopment of Cypress Street was pursued without concern for his quality of life, or that of his next-door neighbors. He also claims that the project was pitched primarily as a wholesale craft beer distributor, with a small tasting room. But Chapman Crafted’s popularity has swelled since its opening more than a month ago, and with that came the noise and parking issues that plague bars.

“We don’t feel like we are affecting them,” Dee said, when asked about his neighbors’ complaints. “We are in an area that zoned for what we’re doing.”

The three modest homes are protected from demolition because they are contributing structures within the Old Towne Orange National Historic District. However, they could be moved to a vacant lot somewhere else in the district.

“My feeling is that the city is pushing us out of here,” Alvarado said.

Plans a’plenty

The brewery, Alvarado’s house, and Chapman’s academic building on Cypress Street are within the Santa Fe Depot Specific Plan. Much like Chapman’s controversial specific plan, Santa Fe Depot’s plan sets the standards for developers and entrepreneurs looking to buy up blighted industrial property for redevelopment.

A prime example is the Old Towne Gateway Project on the northwest corner of Chapman Avenue and Cypress, spearheaded by Al Ricci of Ricci Realty and Architect Leason Pomeroy. Their plan is to convert the historic building that currently houses The Potting Shed By Carlisle, replacing it with a restaurant operated by Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen. Most of the remaining property would be developed as a mixed-use project, with apartments and other retail shops. This project has not been approved by the city.

“The Santa Fe Depot Specific Plan was created to facilitate interest in that area for business and economic development,” Otto said.