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Union Craft brewery taps Neighborhood BusinessWorks program

Union Craft Brewing co-founder and owner Adam Benesch leads state officials on a tour of the new Union Collective brewery.

Union Craft Brewing co-founder and owner Adam Benesch leads state officials on a tour of the new Union Collective brewery.

As the company’s name implies, Union Craft Brewing likes to bring people and things together.

“We chose the name Union for a couple of reasons. It represents the union of the three founders,” says co-founder and owner Adam Benesch, referring to the partnership with his two close friends, Kevin Blodger and Jon Zerivitz, that launched Union Craft in 2011. “It also represents the union of the four traditional ingredients needed to brew beer – grain, hops, yeast and water – and how those four pieces come together, sometimes magically, with the end result being the union of people, enjoying good beer and each other’s company.”

After five years powered by a great product and passionate customers, Union faced a happy dilemma. They had outgrown their facility in the Woodberry neighborhood, the first production brewery opened in Baltimore in more than 30 years. Less than a mile away in the Medfield community, the owners found what seemed to be an ideal location, a 140,000-square-foot warehouse near both the light rail and Interstate 83, but there was an immediate issue. The facility was bigger than what they needed. So, Union did what their name implies. They started bringing people together, reaching out to like-minded local businesses that were looking to expand, to fill the repurposed warehouse and form Union Collective, a modern-day manufacturing center anchored by Union’s brewery and taproom.

Once the vision for Union Collective was clear, Union Craft needed to secure financing to make it happen. That’s when they turned to Neighborhood BusinessWorks, a state small business lending program administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Benesch learned about the program from Seawall Development, Union’s neighbor at their original location and developer of the new space. Seawall had successfully partnered with the department for numerous revitalization and redevelopment projects during the past decade, particularly in central Baltimore. Through Neighborhood BusinessWorks, Union Collective received a $500,000 loan, but more assistance was needed to support the nearly $16 million project.

“We knew Union Collective looked to be a huge, transformative project that would benefit Baltimore and Maryland, so we figured out a new way to secure additional capital for its development,” says John Maneval, Deputy Director of the department’s Community Development Administration.

Using cash reserves from the Maryland Housing Fund, the department provided a loan guarantee that made possible a $12.5 million loan originated by the Enterprise Community Loan Fund, a Maryland-based community development financial institution with deep lending expertise. “The loan guarantee provided Enterprise and their lending partners, The Reinvestment Fund and The Harbor Bank, with both a safety net to mitigate their investment risk and a seal of approval from the State of Maryland that this was a viable and important project.”

The loan guarantee bolstered the investors’ confidence in Benesch’s vision and was critical in securing the necessary capital to finance Union Collective.

According to David and Laura Alima, married co-owners of the celebrated local ice cream manufacturer the Charmery, joining Union Collective fit perfectly with their need to increase production beyond their current capacity at the Charmery’s storefront in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. “Moving into Union Collective really defines the next step for our business,” says Laura.

“The main point is our production is here,” says David, who also serves as the Charmery’s master creamer, developing its signature flavors. “That we got this retail front as part of this incredible business community is a total bonus. The fact that all these businesses have made a conscious effort and decision to stay in Baltimore City is a really special thing.”

A door is painted at the Union Collective building in the Woodberry neighborhoods in Baltimore.

A door is painted at the Union Collective building in the Woodberry neighborhoods in Baltimore.

Most businesses in the collective will have production on-site, so visitors can see firsthand how their products are made. All of the Union Collective members share Benesch’s vision for reinvigorating manufacturing in Baltimore with a thoughtful, civic-minded approach that supports the local community.

“We’re trying to reimagine what manufacturing in an urban setting looks like. It gives Baltimore another beacon of visibility,” says Max Lents, co-founder and CEO of the Baltimore Spirit Company, the oldest rye whiskey distillery in the city. “It will have that effect like pouring water on a flat surface. It all spreads out and just does a lot of good in a lot of ways.”

It’s an optimistic sentiment echoed by other Union Collective members.

“I think the collective attitude about the space just shines in every single way and is really exciting,” said Liz Bower, co-owner of Well Crafted Kitchen, a pizza purveyor known for its 1949 Dodge food truck. The business has already doubled its staff in preparation to make the leap to a brick and mortar location and serve as the food provider within Union’s taproom. “To know this warehouse is being repurposed to bring people together, allow businesses to flourish and give jobs to people in the community, there’s a lot of energy surrounding the project.”

“Union Collective would not exist without Neighborhood BusinessWorks and the additional assistance we received through the state,” says Benesch. “It was a bit of a revelation for us to learn that state programs can help get a vision like this off the ground. The team at the department helped us navigate the entire process, and they showed that the State of Maryland is really interested in and engaged with our community. I definitely encourage other business owners to explore the program.”

During Governor Larry Hogan’s first term, Neighborhood BusinessWorks has provided more than $45 million for 129 projects statewide, including more than $34 million and 76 projects in Baltimore. The department is aggressively working to expand its small business lending and Maneval believes the new loan guarantee mechanism developed to secure investment for Union Collective will become a powerful new financing tool to support revitalization and redevelopment throughout Maryland.

“We will certainly continue to explore creative solutions like this loan guarantee,” he says. “We figure out how to get deals done and turn great ideas like Union Collective into brick and mortar realities.”

For more information about Neighborhood BusinessWorks and other small business assistance, visit: http://dhcd.maryland.gov/Business/.

Get to know Union Collective
Union Collective is a community-minded group of businesses redeveloping an industrial warehouse to create a dynamic new manufacturing hub and tourist destination in Baltimore. Who are they?

Union Craft Brewing: Expanding into a new and larger space, Union’s production brewery and gigantic taproom will serve as an anchor for the new collective space.
Baltimore Spirits Company: Concocting new and expressive spirits with traditional old world distilling methods including their flagship whiskey, Baltimore Epoch Rye.
The Charmery: Creators and manufacturers of super-premium ice cream featuring unique flavors and locally-sourced ingredients.
Earth Treks: An indoor rock climbing and fitness center for exercise and entertainment.
Huckle’s Gourmet Foods: Crafters of all-natural gourmet hot sauces, condiments and other wonderful foods.
Vent Coffee: Artful and passionate roasters that support socially-conscious coffee growing and importation.
Well Crafted Kitchen: Promoting community and connection by serving locally inspired, wood-fired pizza in the taproom.

Expanding Opportunities

Expanding Opportunities

This article is featured in the 2018 edition of The Daily Record’s Expanding Opportunites Resource Guide for Small, Minority and Women Businesses. Published in conjunction with the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women Business Affairs, Expanding Opportunities explores diversity, entrepreneurship and innovation in Maryland’s small business community. Read more from Expanding Opportunities on this website or read the digital edition.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact reprints@thedailyrecord.com.

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