Friday, March 6, 2015

Op-ed: Finally, It's Set in Stone

Stone CFO Craig Spitz, myself, and Stone CEO and Co-founder Greg Koch, celebrating post City Council's vote at Southern Railway Taphouse
Beer lovers, rejoice! Richmond's East End just became the hottest spot on the East Coast for Craft Beer enthusiasts. With Richmond City Council unanimously voting Monday night to approve the transfer of the Old Intermediate Terminal Building to the Richmond Economic Development Authority (REDA). This paves the way for the REDA to lease the building to Stone Brewing.

Full disclosure: I supported this bill 100%. As I'm sure you have heard, it was met with some resistance from several local restaurateurs, most notably, the owners of Bottoms Up Pizza, Buzz & Ned's, and F.W. Sullivan's.  The issue being, these restaurants see this as the city paying for a juggernaut competitor to come in and steal their business, using their own tax dollars. This argument is silly at best.

Tackling the first issue, Financing:
Let's get something straight, the city is not paying for anything that will not be paid back ten fold by Stone. Essentially, the city is acting as a bank helping to finance the project. There should be no issue here due to the fact that Stone is getting a great deal (location, price per square foot, etc.) and the city stands to make millions every year off of the lease and tax revenue. I agree that the increased meals tax has overstayed it's welcome but perhaps adding this additional mega resource for tax dollars will help ease the impact, if and when the tax is lowered. Others say we should be funding schools instead of helping finance a brewery and restaurant, to that I ask "Where do you think the tax dollars come from?" We need to start thinking long term and not just into next week.

The Second Issue, Competition:
If you have seen or been to Stone's Bistro and Gardens, you would know that they are a player apart from others. It's a beautifully done destination restaurant that I would argue is unlike anything we have in RVA. The original location attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. This is a place where beer lovers from all around the world will travel to for a day, a weekend, or a whole week. They will come for Stone and stay for the Virginia Craft Brews. I have no doubt that the economic success of the brewery and the restaurant will flow into the surrounding areas.

Stone's Crew and supporters reviewing the offerings at Southern Railway Taphouse
 I was happy to see support from other established brewers in the Virginia Craft Brewing community. Notably, a delegation from what will become our Commonwealth's 101st brewery, 7 Hills Brewing. This is especially notable due to the proximity (behind LaDiff in Shockoe Bottom) of 7 Hills Brewing to the future site of Stone's Richmond Brewery and Bistro. It is support like this from brewers, business owners, and residents that show what our community is really all about.

I was happy to be at the meeting Monday night to voice my support for the project before City Council. I was fortunate enough to meet both Craig Spitz, Stone's CFO and Greg Koch, Stone's CEO and Co-founder. After the meeting, most of those in attendance who where in favor of the bill joined the members of Stone Brewing's staff at Southern Railway Taphouse in Shockoe Bottom for dinner and drinks. I would be remiss to not extend a personal thank you to Jon Ondrak of Fulton Hill Properties both for being the first to speak in favor of Stone at the Council Meeting and for treating everyone to more than a few celebratory drinks afterwards.

Myself and Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing's Brewmaster for his book & brew discussion at Capital Ale House Downtown's location last Thursday
IPAs have always been a particular fascination of mine, between its rich interesting history and their attributes to the modern day craft beer renaissance.  With this in mind, I was excited to join Stone's Brewmaster Mitch Steele last Thursday at Capital Ale House in Downtown, where he lead a great discussion on his experience with Stone and his adventures in writing his book, IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. I look forward to more discussions like this one, as our Commonwealth becomes even more of a craft beer Mecca than it already is.

In the end, this is just one of the many factors leading to a brighter future for the City of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia. No deal is perfect and we certainly can't make everyone happy but I am confident we will all be better off because of this. Welcome to RVA Stone Brewing, welcome home.

An evening at Capitol Ale House in Downtown RVA

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