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Bunnyman Brewing is hopping on over to Lorton’s Workhouse Arts Center next year.

The Fairfax-based brewery got an official go-ahead from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Dec. 6) to take over a nearly 4,700-square-foot space at the county-owned Workhouse Arts Campus in Lorton.

This will be the brewery’s second location and is expected to open by fall 2023, co-owner Sam Gray told FFXnow. The brewery will be in Building W-13, one of two buildings on the campus that are currently being refurbished.

“The addition of an on-site food and beverage retailer is expected to assist with placemaking and support the vibrant arts and cultural programming and education that [the Workhouse Arts Foundation] provides throughout the site,” the staff report says.

The county is still seeking a tenant for Building W-15, the other component of the $6.3 million renovation project.

The expansion marks Bunnyman Brewing’s return to the former Lorton Reformatory grounds where the story behind its legendary namesake began.

According to one version of the Bunnyman legend, in the early 20th century, a bus carrying patients from a nearby asylum in Clifton to Lorton crashed. The authorities re-apprehended every inmate, save one who was never found, leaving only a trail of gutted rabbits as clues.

One Halloween night years later, teens hanging out under the Colchester Overpass near Fairfax Station saw a flash of light. The next morning, police found the kids strung up and gutted, just like the bunnies left by the inmate.

While that version of the story is completely untrue, there was a man possibly dressed in a bunny suit who terrorized a few residents in the early 1970s.

Gray told FFXnow last month that the brewery’s name is an homage to his hometown.

“It’s the legend we grew up with that was purely Fairfax. Anyone that grew up in the area could relate,” he said. “We are proud of our area and it was the most relevant, fun historical symbol that made sense.”

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Gray made clear that his team did research before choosing its name, which isn’t intended as a celebration of morbid happenings.

“We are not celebrating a murderer, but the story is one we all grew up with. The name is a lot for us,” he said.

He also noted that, while working as a Fairfax County firefighter, he responded to a number of calls at the Lorton Prison, and it still leaves an impression on him.

“When I go into the Workhouse Arts Center, I still see it as a prison. It’s taken a little while to get the flutters out of my stomach,” he said. “I did respond to the prison quite a few times back in the day and it was a scary situation every single time. There was no getting used to it.”

The lease for Bunnyman Brewery received unanimous approval from supervisors and was “wholeheartedly” endorsed by the head of the nonprofit Workhouse Arts Foundation, which manages the arts center.

“The two Bunnyman co-owners…have already shown the Workhouse Arts Center, by participating in our annual haunt event, that they will be great partners as we collectively work together to ensure the full activation of the campus,” WAF President Leon Scioscia said.

The initial 10-year lease is expected to generate about $109,000 a year for the county, after “the initial 18-month rent abatement period has ended,” per the staff report. Gray says the abatement means the brewery will pay no rent for the first three months and only half its rent for the next 15 months.

The county is expected to hand over the property to Bunnyman Brewing in March. At that time, the brewery will make some of its own improvements with the hope of opening the space to the public about six months later — just in time for the spooky season.

“We hope to be able to host a couple soft openings by September 2023 and fully open the doors by Halloween 2023,” Gray said.

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Workhouse Arts Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Bunnyman Brewing is looking to return to the source of its legendary namesake by conjuring up a second location at Lorton’s Workhouse Arts Campus.

The Fairfax-based brewery is in the midst of negotiating a lease to move into 4,500 square-foot space at the county-owned Workhouse Arts Campus in Lorton, Bunnyman co-owner Sam Gray confirmed to FFXnow.

At yesterday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors authorized a public hearing for Dec. 6 in regard to the county leasing property to the brewery.

If approved, this would be Bunnyman’s second location and Gray said the hope would be to open at 9514 Workhouse Way prior to Halloween 2023.

Over the summer, construction began on a $6.3 million renovation of two buildings at the Workhouse campus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Board Chairman Jeff McKay noted at the time that the county hoped a restaurant or brewery would move into those buildings.

Bunnyman is now poised to take over one of the refurbished spaces, known as Building W-13 — a fitting turn of events, since the brewery is named after a local legend that involves the Workhouse Arts Center, which was once the Lorton Reformatory.

As one version of the story goes, Clifton had an asylum in the early 20th century, but the small town’s residents didn’t like the idea of having patients there. So, it was shut down, and all the patients were put on a bus destined for the Lorton prison. However, the bus crashed before reaching its destination.

The authorities were able to reapprehend every inmate — except for one who was never found, leaving only gutted, half-eaten bunnies as clues.

One Halloween night years later, a group of kids hanging out under the Colchester Overpass near Fairfax Station supposedly saw a flash of light. The next morning, police find the kids gutted and half-eaten, like the bunnies left by the inmate.

There is likely no more than a kernel of truth to the story, but Gray — a retired Fairfax County firefighter — grew up with it and thought there was no better name for his brewery.

“It’s the legend we grew up with that was purely Fairfax. Anyone that grew up in the area could relate,” he said. “We are proud of our area and it was the most relevant, fun historical symbol that made sense.”

The Building W-13 renovation is expected to wrap up soon, possibly letting Bunnyman’s ownership move into the space by February. If that happens, Gray says he could have the brewery open by next fall.

The plan is to brew drinks on-site, but on a smaller scale than its main location on Guinea Road in Fairfax. There will also be a “limited fun in-house food selection,” along with cider and possibly wine.

The lease with the county calls for an 18-month rent abatement and is expected to generate about $109,000 on a yearly basis for the public coffers, per a staff report.

As for the other renovated building on campus, dubbed Building W-15, the county continues “to seek a prospective tenant,” according to staff.

Gray is excited that his brewery has the opportunity to move into such a unique and historic space.

“We…believe the corridor and Laurel Hill/Lorton area is set for good future growth,” he said. “Part of the Bunnyman legend is the prison and we look forward to being part of that growth.”

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County leaders walk past building W13 on their way to break ground on the latest renovation at the Workhouse Arts Center (via Supervisor Dan Storck/Facebook)

Construction is underway on Fairfax County’s latest effort to remake the former Lorton Reformatory grounds into a destination for local residents and tourists.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, and other local officials broke ground Friday (June 24) on a renovation of two buildings — designated W13 and W15 — that once housed prison inmates.

Located along Ox Road on the west side of the 52-acre site, now known as the Workhouse Arts Center, the 4,500-square-foot buildings will get their brick exteriors restored, while their interiors are overhauled for future commercial tenants. The county has its fingers crossed for a restaurant or brewery.

“We hope that it provides food and beverage opportunities and places for people to come here and spend more time, not just to stop off, but spend the better part of the day exploring the Workhouse,” McKay said. “These buildings will go a long way to doing that.”

Funded by a $6.3 million county investment, the project will also transform the open space between the buildings into a plaza with a boardwalk, raised walkways, seating areas, trees, and new paved paths along Ox Road.

It’s part of a larger plan to redevelop the former prison complex that has been in place since July 2004.

Opened to the public in September 2008, the Workhouse Arts Center now consists of 11 restored buildings that feature art galleries, studios, classrooms, facilities for ceramics and other crafts, and the Lucy Burns Museum, which delves into the Lorton prison’s history.

Additional amenities envisioned for the campus include housing for resident artists and performers, an amphitheater or music hall, a 450-seat theater, a 300-seat performing arts center, a 600-seat events center, and an outdoor garden with a greenhouse.

A map of the planned Workhouse Campus in Lorton, with buildings W13 and W15 in red (via DPWES)

The W13 and W15 buildings have been approved for eating establishments with a total of 400 seats. Read More

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A digital rendering shows the proposed collections facility (via Fairfax County)

A heating plant abandoned when the Lorton prison closed in 2001 could eventually host Fairfax County’s vast collection of artifacts and museum objects.

Located in the Workhouse Arts Center area, the building at 8941 Workhouse Road could be transformed with a second-level addition and upgrades to meet curation standards, allowing the county to hold over 3 million artifacts in a central location.

The project will go before the county’s Planning Commission at a 7:30 p.m. meeting today (Wednesday) as part of a public facilities review process. At this time, the locations housing archaeological and museum collections are at capacity, according to the county.

Currently, the artifacts and museum objects are on display at historic sites in the county and exhibits at the James Lee Community Center in West Falls Church, the Fairfax County Government Center, and other locations.

Some objects are also housed at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park facilities near Manassas, or on temporary display for events and festivals, such as Celebrate Fairfax.

The area where the former heating plant now sits was once used as a cattle shed and hay barn for inmates at the Occoquan Workhouse, which opened in 1910 with a farm operated by prisoners serving short sentences for non-violent offenses.

“Layers of fencing and other security features (most of which have recently been removed) came only later as higher security was required in the last quarter of the twentieth century,” a report says on the workhouse, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A Fairfax County archaeological report from Sept. 21, 2020, by senior archaeologist Aimee Wells says the workhouse’s shift to more of a medium-security prison changed the property’s use.

“The building that currently stands on the property was built in the mid-1990s as a heating plant on a concrete slab and was in use for less than a decade,” the report said.

The heating plant was decommissioned around 1998 as part of a gradual shutdown of the prison, according to the report.

The 31-foot-tall structure includes a 13,355-square-foot building. The plan currently being considered by the county calls for adding a 1,405-square-foot bump-out addition that’s nearly 21 feet tall.

“The building would include labs, storage, research rooms, offices, collections isolation rooms and the loading dock area, and a records room would be located in the bump-out addition,” a March 2022 staff report said about the project. “Site improvements include dumpster pad with screen, parking area, sidewalk/ADA accessible path, chain link fence along the site perimeter, and an access road connecting to the Workhouse Campus.”

Permits are expected to be sought in coming months through spring 2023, and construction would start, but it would rely on the next public bond cycle to finance it.

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