Lincoln Park property may become home to distillery

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A long-vacant industrial property in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood may become home to a distillery.

On Monday night, the Duluth City Council is expected to vote on a resolution authorizing up to $50,000 for Barr Engineering Co. to conduct an environmental investigation of a former dairy operation at 1928 W. First St.

The former Franklin Foods facility occupies about half a city block — 1.3 acres — and has sat empty since Arrowhead-Kemps Dairy Products picked up stakes in 2013.

Now, Kevin Evans, CEO of Duluth Whiskey Project LLC, is interested in launching his first distillery on the site.

Heather Rand, director of economic development for the city of Duluth, said an initial environmental investigation of the site has been conducted at the prospective buyer’s expense. But she maintained that further analysis was needed before any deal could proceed, and the city has procured a federal grant to cover the cost.

“Without it, they will not purchase the property,” she said, describing potential plans for a distillery and tap room on premises to the city council at a Thursday agenda session meeting.

Not all of the site would likely be occupied by distilling operations, if the deal goes through, according to Rand.

“Amongst the 21,000 square feet of space, there will probably be some space that could be leased for additional commercial activities. That’s their intent,” she said.

“Being that this is a facility that has not been in productive use for some quite a while now, this is something that we as staff certainly recommend that you support,” Rand told councilors.

If any cleanup work is required, Rand said the city would likely work with the company to seek cleanup grants.

Evans said that for the past three years, he has been working with Joel and Emily Vikre to help the couple get their own distillery up and running in Duluth.

“It was an opportunity to learn the industry from the inside and go through a launch with somebody else,” he said. “So now I’m looking for property with which to expand and do my own thing.”

Evans said he is particularly drawn to Lincoln Park, as it is emerging as a craft district and a congregation point for makers in the city.

“That whole neighborhood is just hot,” he said. “I love everything that’s happening down there.”

After a stint in the Marines, Evans earned a graduate degree in business and entered the banking industry out East. But he didn’t find the work fulfilling. When his wife, Colleen, accepted a job in Duluth as a physician at Essentia Health, Evans decided to follow his long-lived interest in brewing and distilling.

“I guess you could say I’m an ex-banker with a passion for whiskey, who wants to make that his life’s work,” he said.

Evans said he’s not yet certain the property he’s been eyeing in Lincoln Park will pan out, but he remains confident that he soon will be in a position to start his own distillery one way or another.

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