Journeyman Distillery refashions old ANCO building for second location
The Valparaiso community has not forgotten the old ANCO wiper blade factory building and its many reiterations over the years. Envisioning its rebirth into a showcase location for economic growth has always been a top-of-mind project for local leaders.
That vision was realized in October when the second location of Journeyman Distillery opened at this historic site.
Valparaiso native Bill Welter encountered numerous detours and bumps in the road since 2017 when the fruits of the project began to blossom. It was indeed a big hometown celebration when he officially expanded the operations of his business to 258 S. Campbell St.
The October opening follows the success of his first foray into the distillery business with the Featherbone Factory across the state line in Three Oaks, Michigan.
“I originally wanted to open my distillery business right here in Valparaiso,” said Welter, “but was prohibited from doing so by Indiana laws, so I went to Michigan.”
But Welter never gave up on his dream of coming home. He worked behind the scenes with Indiana legislators to help change the distillery laws to allow budding entrepreneurs, like himself, a chance to develop their own spirits business in Indiana.
Welter’s dogmatic spirit and years of commitment brought the 140,000-square-foot historic ANCO building with good bones back to life. It is now home to The American Factory campus, featuring a top-rated distillery, Union Hall Restaurant, and special event spaces for weddings and private events. He also plans to include their own Sea of Monsters Brewery and Bar, among other features. Guests can enjoy a variety of experiences, including distillery tours and tastings to learn the process of their exclusive farm-to-grain-to-glass spirits.
Years ago, Welter was approached by his longtime friend Rob Thorgren, a member of the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission, to look at the old factory building and re-imagine it for his business.
George Douglas, director of development for the city of Valparaiso, notes that Journeyman Distillery had a strong economic impact right from the start.
“During the construction period, many local contractors were involved in the project,” Douglas said. “We also envision Journeyman Distillery as a regional draw, bringing up to 200,000 people a year, both locally and from our neighboring states of Illinois and Michigan to this site. It will have a multi, positive, ripple effect on Valparaiso for decades to come.”
The renovation of the former ANCO factory was a massive $40 million project.
“What started as a $12- to $26-million project just grew over the years for a number of reasons, including environmental issues, the inflation period, the great employee resignation period, and long lead times with general contractors due to the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Welter said. “It would have been very costly to tear down this building, but we completed its preservation and redevelopment.”
Journeyman Distillery received considerable financial support to complete the project from the city of Valparaiso, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, Indiana Economic Development Corp., local state and federal grants, historic tax credits, and a senior financial institution lender.
It took seven years for its highly anticipated opening, which is the culmination of Welter’s own journey that embraces the past and merges an historic site with his vision for a multi-faceted entertainment campus. To keep that engine running, The American Factory – Journeyman Distillery employs 175 people.
Their hard work paid off when the Franciscan Health Foundation hosted its first large event at the facility Dec. 1.
“We were very impressed with the atmosphere created and the customer service provided for our guests,” said Rick Peltier, executive director of the foundation. “After holding our gala in Chicago the past four years, it is refreshing to find a Northern Indiana location that is unique and met our expectations.”
He said the event raised more than $195,000 for its patient assistance fund. He also said plans for next year’s event already include the American Factory.
Welter looks back at the path that led to the completion of this project and reflects on the massive renovation.
“We were blessed by so many people who made this happen, including the support of the city of Valparaiso and Mayor Matt Murphy, along with many local and regional leaders,” he said.
Read more stories from the current issue of Northwest Indiana Business Magazine.