Vacant Ybor Hights church transitioning to brewery co-op

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A former church that became a hotspot for criminal activity in Ybor Heights is about to have a very different vibe. 

The vacant building has a new owner, and instead of converting souls, he'll be converting hops.

"This will be part of the brewery operation, but it will be shared between the main production brewery and the tenant brewers here," Rick Wolfe explained as he showed FOX 13 News around the Nebraska Avenue property.

You could say the developer took a leap of faith buying the vacant house of worship. Wolfe said the run-down former church was neglected and crime-ridden.

"There was never a time when we came through the building that there weren't at least three to four people squatting here, and there were drugs and prostitution," he said.

Wolfe owns Brewer's Tasting Room in St. Petersburg and plans to bring a similar concept to this space. 

Essentially, it's a launch pad for craft brewers.

"What we call the brewhouse will be in this corner, and that's where the grain is converted into fermentable sugar," Wolfe said as he gave FOX 13 News a tour.

Inside the 6,500-square-foot structure, two brewers will be able to craft, bottle and sell their beers.

"We're providing all the equipment, infrastructure, as well as the location for upstart breweries to come in and launch their brand," Wolfe said.

The biggest transformation will happen inside. Two separate tasting rooms will be built, and a shared beer garden will be out back.

A second level will be added, and from the front, the building will have an industrial look while keeping the same basic footprint.

The tenant brewers haven't been tapped yet, but Wolfe says there's really only one major requirement.

"Number one, they have to have good beer!" he said.

He hopes the business will be up and running by next spring.