An event space may become a reality for Brunswick after all.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s office awarded Smoketown Brewing Station a $200,000 grant Thursday that will help brewery owner Dave Blackmon install a sprinkler system and start a long-awaited project to build an event space on the upper floor of his brewery.
“I’m very excited,” Blackmon said. “I’m very happy.”
The $200,000 will go toward the sprinkler system, Blackmon said. The total cost will be approximately $250,000. The remaining $50,000 will be put up by Blackmon and the city of Brunswick. Brunswick Main Street originally applied for a $175,000 grant on Blackmon’s behalf in July.
Blackmon started to plan for an event space in the city when he bought the former fire station that serves as his brewery. The space was once the place to go in the city, as both a community hall and an entertainment venue. Country singer Patsy Cline and jazz bandleader Duke Ellington each graced the stage.
And he plans to honor its history as the project builds out. He wants it to be a community hall area. It can hold an expo or a fundraiser. The city government could use it.
“People giggle when I say I want to host Brunswick’s first dog show,” he said.
And, of course, music. Blackmon sees no problem getting live acts to the space. He has to turn down people who want to perform there now, he said.
For Blackmon, getting the event space open — he is eyeing a possible spring opening — means that he can open his brewery seven days a week. And it means that he could possibly draw 3,000 to 4,000 people to the city each week, he said.
“This needs to happen for Brunswick,” he said.
He initially planned to make it a space with a maximum capacity of 299 people. A county inspector told him that he could have such a capacity without sprinklers because he had enough exits, according to previous News-Post reporting.
But then another county inspector told him he needed to install sprinklers. At the time, it was a cost he could not afford, and Blackmon put his plans on hold.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said it is the state, not the county, that determines the fire safety code.
“We really don’t have the ability to amend the fire code. The fire code is state law. ... Brunswick is going to get a great event space that will serve the public, and in a safe environment,” Gardner said.
With the sprinkler system, Blackmon might be able to increase the capacity to more than 299 people, said Sophie Smith, Brunswick Main Street manager.
That would make it one of the largest event spaces in the county, she said.
“I think the event space is going to make a huge impact in Brunswick,” Smith said.
That narrative has surrounded the event space since Blackmon started working on it. As much as Blackmon needs the event space for his brewery, the city needs the venue to bring people downtown.
“It can be huge,” Smith said.
If people come to downtown Brunswick to attend a show or some event, then they can spend time at the city’s restaurants and stores, she said.
It also gives people looking to open a store a look at the real estate available in the downtown area, said Councilman Nathan Brown, who called the space “monumental.”
Brunswick’s businesses, including Smoketown, need a critical mass to function, Blackmon said. The event venue could increase that.
“It’s all about numbers and getting people into your place,” he said.
Sen. Michael Hough (R-Carroll and Frederick), who lives in Brunswick, said the city suffers from a Rust Belt problem. Brunswick, like many other Maryland municipalities, was built by the railroad boom. It never quite recovered from the loss of the railroad industry.
But now there is movement in the city, with Smith and city officials looking to address the problem of building vacancy and lack of foot traffic. The governor’s office also awarded the city a $400,000 grant to address blighted buildings Thursday.
“I think there’s a lot of positive momentum, and we need to keep it moving forward,” Hough said.