Culture News

Glendale's Beet Sugar Factory Will Soon Be a Distillery and Tasting Room

Glendale's historic district is about to get a cool new business as its most iconic building is set to be redeveloped. The 105-year-old Beet Sugar Factory and its surrounding property will soon house a Valley liquor distillery and tasting room.

Valley businessman Ray Klemp recently announced plans to transform the 95-foot-tall red brick structure into a manufacturing facility for Forward Brands, a local liquor manufacturer run by his daughters Lauren and Morgan Klemp

Ray Klemp, who also owns Arizona Wine Company in Scottsdale, says that the redevelopment is expected to begin sometime next month and will last approximately six months. 

"We're still doing our final plans and structural engineering," he says. "Once it's done, however, it's going to be really cool."

Forward Brands was formed by his daughters in 2007 and creates a variety of premium and flavored rum, vodka, gin, and tequila that's sold at local retailers. All of these spirits will be created within the confines of the 65,000 square foot structure. Once it opens in the spring, the facility will offer tours to the public, as well as a chance to sample the adult beverages in a posh tasting room in a smaller adjacent building on the property. 

"People can taste the product and take a tour to see the see the various things that go into the drink," Ray says. "There will also be fruit trees and plants, almost like a botanical garden, on the property. So we'll make a little show and tell kind of exhibit outside."

​The factory's redevelopment  into a distillery is the latest transformation of the structure, which has functioned in a variety of roles since its construction in 1906. Beets were converted into sugar at the facility before it was shuttered in 1913. 

Arizona businessman Philip Ringer purchased the place in 1935 and began leasing space to various food and drink manufacturers over the 50 years, including the beer brewers, the makers of Squirt, and the Marusho Soy Sauce Company. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, but has been vacant for more than 25 years as the Ringer family considered various redevelopment offers.

Klemp says getting to redevelop the structure is a project he's been working on for more than a decade. An attempt to land a development grant from Glendale's municipal government in 2000 to rehab the building fell through, as did his plans to work with the city to redevelop it into artist's lofts, retail space, and a rock-climbing gym. 

"It would've been a very cool thing to put a gym and lofts in there," he says. "But it really wasn't the kind of use that got the city excited."

​Klemp, who's funding the factory's redevelopment himself, finally purchased the place in 2009 and began working with his daughters on bringing their spirituous operation to the building. He estimates it will cost approximately $1.4 million to bring things up to code, including installing a new roof, reinforcing walls and floors, and constructing boilers and other equipment. 

"It's built like the Empire State Building [where] all the beams are all fabricated out of riveted steel. The brickwork is really quality stuff, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel to get it up and running," he says. "Back east, you'll see distilleries in old brick buildings like this. So it's really a great match for the use, it just looks link an old distillery building."

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.