The town of Windsor lost a little piece of its history and a little bit of its soul on August 6 when someone set fire to a 118-year old former flour mill that locals had described as being like an old friend. Built in 1899, the four-story mill had managed to survive time, a tornado and multiple uses over the years, and city officials were elated earlier this year when a developer bought the structure and announced plans to renovate and refurbish it into a mixed-used site that would have included restaurants, a brewery and offices. It was going to be one of the first new developments in a while in downtown Windsor, located between Fort Collins and Greeley.
Now the developer, Blue Ocean Enterprises, and the city are trying to figure out how and whether they can rebuild, and what that might look like for the remains of the building and the site.
So is Denver's Prost Brewing. Although it hadn't been announced publicly yet, Prost was planning to open a new brewery and restaurant in the old flour mill, an expansion that brewery co-founder Troy Johnston describes as a perfect fit. "There were some larger and maybe more well-known breweries than us that were interested in it, but Blue Ocean wanted a restaurant, and because of that, it made it a natural fit for us."
Johnston has four other business partners in Prost, several of whom are longtime restaurant owners and operators in Colorado, with decades of experience at places like CB & Potts, Brooklyn's and Braun's.
The brewpub had been set to include a fifteen-barrel brewing system with its lager tanks in the basement; Prost specializes in making German-style lagers, like a pilsner, dunkel and helles. Lager tanks are horizontal and would have fit in the basement, as opposed to the more familiar ale tanks, which are tall and vertical. The restaurant portion was going to feature elevated pub fare with a German twist, Johnston says. "It's a hundred-year-old building, and we had put a lot of thought and planning into the design."
The massive, middle-of-the night fire put a stop to all of the planning, however. Local fire department officials immediately called in the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has since determined that the blaze was intentionally set. "That building was very special to that community. A lot of people were bummed, almost devastated, really," Johnston adds. After serving as a flour mill, the building had been a livestock feed mill and a billiards-table manufacturing plant and showroom. Damaged by a tornado in 2008, it had been vacant since then; the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But Blue Ocean (owned by OtterBox founders Curt and Nancy Richardson) intends to rebuild, Johnston says, and to keep Prost as the primary tenant, along with two other restaurants. "They have everyone involved to expedite this; they want it to open next summer," he notes. Initial plans call for Blue Ocean to rebuild the flour mill so that it looks as similar to the original as possible, though the interior will be laid out in a more modern way.
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In the meantime, Prost is looking for a space to open a temporary taproom where it can "plant a flag and let the community know that we still love it there and still want to be involved in the area," Johnston says.
Prost, which celebrates its fourth anniversary in Denver later this month, made its first foray into northern Colorado in 2016 when it opened a satellite taproom in Old Town Fort Collins. Three of the company's co-owners graduated from Colorado State University, and some still live in northern Colorado with their families.
The company is also actively looking for other locations in Colorado where it can open a small brewery and taproom or taprooms. While Prost would continue to focus on its main brewery in Denver, the smaller locations would allow for greater creativity and smaller-batch beers with German influences.