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J. Rieger & Co. Expands Distillery, Aims To 'Resurrect' Kansas City's Historic Electric Park

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Ryan Maybee, front middle, and Andy Rieger, back left, announced Tuesday J. Rieger & Co. would expand operations into the historic Heim Brewery building.

Business partners Ryan Maybee and Andy Rieger of J. Rieger & Co. announced Tuesday they are expanding their East Bottoms operations to the historic building next door. 

Credit J. Rieger & Co.
A rendering of the renovated building on Montgall Avenue from the southeast corner.

The Kansas City distilling company purchased the Ferd Heim Brewery Co. bottling facility last October, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, built in 1901, that long stood empty after Prohibition.

Maybee said the new space would more than quadruple their production, and eventually increase their staff of six to more than 40.

"It will increase our ability to store more barrels of whiskey. We'll be able to make a lot more of the gin, which is a product we're really trying to build into a national brand," Maybee said.

But, more than that, Maybee said they're hoping to draw people to the area.

"That's a big part of the goal, and I think that's why the city is so behind it. This area has been blighted for a long time," Maybee said. "Up till now, we've been strictly manufacturing—distilling whiskey on a daily basis, and producing vodka and gin for outward distribution."

Credit J. Rieger & Co.
A rendering of the interior space, displaying the main floor and a view of the distilling process through floor-to-ceiling windows.

But the new building will focus on the consumers, with daily tours and tastings, cocktails and small plates on a second-floor bar and lounge, as well as an on-site museum highlighting Kansas City history and the legacy of J. Rieger & Co., which was founded in 1887 in Kansas City's West Bottoms.

It's a significant development for what Andy Rieger called an "almost-forgotten-about neighborhood," that was once booming.  

In the late 1800s, Ferdinand Heim expanded his St. Louis-based brewing business and built a new facility in Kansas City's East Bottoms. It became the largest brewery west of the Mississippi River before it closed due to Prohibition. 

The Heim family also built an amusement park called Electric Park, which was the first electric-powered amusement park in the United States, famous for its light displays and its beer on draught, piped directly from the East Bottoms brewery.

Rieger and Maybee said they are hoping to rebrand the East Bottoms area as Electric Park.

The announcement Tuesday comes as The Local Pig meat shop, and its food truck Pigwich, are moving out of the building across the street from the Rieger distillery, and into a new space in the River Market. The Local Pig is also expanding, but owner Alex Pope said their East Bottoms location couldn't accommodate. 

"I'm a little torn they're opening when we're leaving, but it's going to continue to be a destination place because of what they're doing," Pope told KCUR. "Everything they're going to do is going to expand what we've done."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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