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Glass blowers — and a brewery? — will move into Langley firehouse

The city is putting the fire back in the firehouse, and before long you might get a cold beer in there, too.

The city council at its meeting Monday night authorized Mayor Paul Samuelson to sign a lease for a glass-blowing operation in the front portion of the city’s surplus fire station on Second Street.

And officials were beside themselves with enthusiasm for a new proposal to install a hands-on micro-brewing operation in the rear portion of the building.

A five-year lease was approved for the Firehouse Studio and Gallery. Glass artists Callahan McVay of Clinton, Bob Mitchell of Tulalip and Tina Furman of Freeland will use the front portion of the station for a glass-bowing “hot shop” and gallery.

They also plan glass-blowing demonstrations in which the public would participate, along with a sales gallery, classes and workshops. McVay said the group has been authorized to have classes for 10 students at a time.

“Retail won’t be the primary focus,” he said.

The lease calls for rent of $1,887 per month for the 1,225 square-foot front section of the station, with a 3-percent increase annually. The artists already have begun moving into the building and expect to open soon.

Meanwhile, South Whidbey native Michael McMahon of Clinton has proposed setting up the Firehouse Tasting Station, an “experiential” beer-making operation that would guide visitors through the entire process.

McMahon, 33, said he has been brewing since he was a teenager, and has been making beer professionally for 10 years. He calls his business Olde World Ales and Lagers.

“I was going to set it up at home on my property, but this is much more intriguing,” McMahon said. He said he has all the equipment needed, and that the fire station is ideal for the operation.

McMahon envisions classes and mini-seminars for those who want to learn more about brewing, but mostly the emphasis will be on visitors “to be part of the brewing process.”

“Four out of five people who come to a brewery don’t want a beer, they want a tour,” McMahon said.

He also said he and the glass-blowing group have talked about a collaboration to create a distinctly Langley beer in a distinctly Langley bottle. McMahon also proposes to create micro-sodas for children.

And his ultimate goal, he added, is to grow his own barley and hops on the island.

“I want to get back to the artisan concept,” he said, “where everything in the beer people taste comes from the same 12 square miles.”

City officials were excited about the idea, which they said fits perfectly with the economic energy philosophy they’re trying to foster. The council directed Samuelson to pursue the lease process with McMahon, and perhaps have something ready to sign by the next council meeting.

“These are transformational times,” Councilman Russell Sparkman said. “What we need is not to do business as usual.”

“And I hope you’ll name a beer after me,” Sparkman joked.

The 3,090-square-foot fire station became surplus when Island County Fire District 3 moved to its new $1.5 million station on Camano Avenue late last fall.

The old fire hall features two vehicle bays, offices, a kitchen, bathrooms and storage areas. The city has been seeking a lease commitment of $2,500 a month.

The city had been negotiating a lease for the rear portion of the fire station with Whidbey Island Soap Company, which has been in operation on First Street since 2002.

But owners Kimberly Tiller and her son and business partner, David Tiller, decided to pull out for insurance reasons, Samuelson said.

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