For about 40 years, a Franklin man had a dream to run a small pub or tavern, and when a former government building was listed for sale he saw his chance.
Over the past year, Phil Warrenburg sought hundreds of thousands from investors, opened up his finances and his ideas to a city board and taken out an extra life insurance policy on himself in case the unthinkable happens.
He has worked as a landscape architect, managing workers and overseeing design projects, and now works as a purchasing manager for an Edinburgh manufacturer. And at age 59, he finally is ready to make his visions of a neighborhood pub serving his own craft beer and a full restaurant menu a reality.
Both the Old Post Brewpub restaurant and the Opocofi Brewing brewery should be ready to open in the former Franklin city hall building by April or May next year.
Exploring an opportunity
When Franklin listed the former city hall for sale in 2010, Warrenburg felt compelled to check it out. The building, which was constructed in the 1930s as a post office and then used as city hall from 1981 until 2009, had a long and interesting history. When he looked at it, he could envision an outdoor patio where people could enjoy a sandwich and a beer, while admiring the historic features of the building.
The brick and concrete building was quite a bit larger than the hole-in-the-wall pub with an apartment upstairs he had imagined. But it was the right size to take his beer-brewing interests to a much larger scale.
For four years he’d been home-brewing amber lagers and pale ales in 5-gallon batches. His setup was the kind of small-scale brewing where you start it in your kitchen, let it ferment and then tap it into bottles to share with friends or drink yourself.
Warrenburg expects the brewery could produce three to six signature beers that would be available all year and could offer seasonal or specialty brews, such as an Oktoberfest beer or a stronger version of an India pale ale. He’s now completing a rigorous master brewer’s course where he’s learning about enzymes and peptides and getting a deeper understanding of brewing as a chemical reaction. Getting his master brewer’s certification is not a requirement from the city or the state, and he could hire someone to run the brewery. But Warrenburg wants to understand it fully and be able to guide what brews are being produced.
He knew a brewpub would be a good fit for the downtown and pair well with the nearby Artcraft Theatre. The annual Beer and Bluegrass Festival downtown always is a hit. Craft breweries have been opening all over the state, as beer drinkers embrace creative new drinks from small brewers.
Building a plan
Warrenburg brought his idea to the city redevelopment commission, asking for money to fix up the building that had been empty for five years and promising he would put more than $600,000 into the project himself. Officials liked the idea but wanted to make sure he could pull together the money from the multiple investors he was courting and had a good business plan.
Then, he waited as city officials asked for more time to finish lead paint testing, check for environmental hazards and run through his financial statements to see how much he was investing himself and how he would get the rest of the money he needed. Warrenburg was caught off guard when the city asked him to get an additional life insurance policy, in case something happened to him before construction finished and the brewpub opened.
At one point, his wife suggested he abandon the idea, he said.
But the slow process allowed him to meet with city leaders and talk about the idea and gauge their interest and support. He built a team of local advisers to help with finances, restaurant management, historic preservation and construction design. He could understand why the city was being so cautious: They didn’t want to lose the historic city hall to foreclosure or other creditors if the business failed.
To make the project happen, Warrenburg has had to pull investors together to generate the $450,000 needed to build the restaurant and brewery. He’s worked with two groups of people — friends and community members who are buying in because they embrace the idea and think it would benefit the downtown, and business investors who are more interested in rate of return and profit forecasts.
Getting the city to commit to sell the building allowed Warrenburg to reach agreements with those investors, especially the business investors, and he’s on track to meet the fall deadline set by the city to come up with the money, he said.
“We were building comfort as we went, so there weren’t any surprises,” Warrenburg said. “Each month we were asking questions and gathering consensus.”
Redevelopment commission members wanted to make sure every question was answered before they gave up the building and spent a large amount of tax dollars, commission president Bob Heuchan said.
Warrenburg spotted issues with the building, such as a bowing wall in the basement and the possibility that a nearby coin laundry had caused environmental contamination.
Heuchan said the local people he pulled together early on to help design the project also made city leaders more comfortable about selling him the building.
“What you don’t want to have are surprises when you get into this stuff. He’s very meticulous, and you can tell this thing wasn’t done on a spur of the moment. He’s given this a lot of deep thought and a lot of planning with what can go wrong with this,” Heuchan said.