Former RiNo salvage yard on Walnut Street to be Yota Yard distillery

A drive down Walnut Street in Denver’s River North Art District shows the neighborhood in a state of flux – popular businesses sit next to properties for lease, while construction teams toil on new sites. One developer plans to add to the district’s new vision by transforming an old salvage yard into a distillery, beer garden and more.

On Friday morning, Mike Mathieson, president of Forbes Partnership, walked around the future site of The Yota Yard at 3134 Walnut St., pointing out a 19th-century steel mill that he plans to restore as RiNo Distillery.

“This is probably my favorite project,” said Mathieson, who owns other properties in the area. “It’s just very unique.”

The RiNo neighborhood sits at a precarious crossroads within the city’s broader discourse about real estate development. On one hand, Denver’s suffering through a housing crisis, with a shortage of affordable living spaces that leave residents burned by rising prices. Throughout RiNo, new apartment buildings are opening at lightning speeds, with NOVEL RiNo at 1350 40th St. under construction now.

On the other hand, RiNo exists mainly within Five Points – Denver’s historically-Black neighborhood, referred to as the “Harlem of the West,” that’s struggling with gentrification. Some residents argue that RiNo is part of the problem, pricing out families who have resided in the area for generations.

RiNo operates in a state of advanced gentrification, which has taken place in the broader area – including Union Station North and Curtis Park – for at least 20 years, according to the Urban Displacement Project. The initiative defines the neighborhood as a hot market.

But it’s also a district that’s often sink or swim for businesses, particularly those that specialize in adult refreshments. Taproom and coffee bar Improper City at 3201 Walnut St. and River North Brewery at 3400 Blake St. have carved out their own niches in the neighborhood. But others, like Epic Brewing at 3001 Walnut St., recently shuttered their doors for good.

For Mathieson’s part, he doesn’t mind the competition.

“The other distilleries really add to it,” he said Friday. “Really, it becomes an area where people want to visit.”

He considers The Yota Yard to be a chance at saving a piece of Colorado history – once an old steel mill, then a salvage yard – that still stands on its original bones.

He’ll strengthen the soon-to-be distillery with steel beams, alongside other efforts to restore the property’s existing structures, including another building that will eventually host a taco bar. Mathieson also plans to keep the railroad tracks that run through the site.

But new elements will also be introduced, such as a two-story building serving beer with mountain views.

The project, which he estimates could cost around $15 million, is now awaiting permits to begin construction. That will likely take place at the beginning of next year, with a potential opening anticipated for either the end of 2024 or the start of 2025, Mathieson said.

Michael Mathieson at the former Yota Yard property, a salvage yard for Toyota and Lexus vehicles at 3134 Walnut St. in Denver, Colorado on Friday, March 31, 2023. The property owner gears up to turn the property into a distillery, beer garden and restaurant. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Michael Mathieson at the former Yota Yard property in Denver on Friday, March 31, 2023. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

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