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Richmond restaurant owners speak out against city funding for Stone Brewing

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Several Richmond restaurant owners told City Council Monday night they support Stone Brewing’s decision to come to Richmond, but they are opposed to the city giving Stone $8 million to open a restaurant.

“We feel they should have to do it on the same merits everybody else in the city has had to work so hard to get,” Michelle Williams, of the Richmond Restaurant Group, told members of council.

Even the co-founders of one of Richmond’s largest breweries, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, spoke at Monday's council meeting. Hardywood co-founders opened the spot on Ownby Lane in September 2011, but their business really changed after a new law took effect July 2012, which allowed them to sell single glasses of beer (without selling food).

“The disparity in the city's financial support for Stone versus its homegrown breweries and restaurants is vast,” co-founder Eric McKay, said.

Last year his brewery received tens of thousands in meals-tax back pay on all beer sold from their business, though they were were originally told their brewery was exempt from the city’s six percent meals tax.

On Monday night City Council approved $23 million in general obligation dollars to fund the first phase of the Stone Brewery project on Monday night, but postponed a decision about the additional $8 million for the bistro. Parker Agelasto and Reva Trammel were the only two members who abstained.

The bistro will be built after the brewing distribution center, along the Richmond riverfront near Rockett’s Landing.

Aerial view of project, from Stone Brewing Company website.

Aerial view of project, from Stone Brewing Company website.

The city said the project will create 300 jobs, increase tourism, and revitalize the area.

“In San Diego they bring in about 600,000 people a year, and we're hoping to see that same impact here,” Lee Downey, head of Richmond’s Department of Economic and Community Development, said.

Downey said the city will eventually get the $8 million back.

“The lease paid by the company for the bistro will actually pay that eight million dollars in financing back to the city,” Downey said.

Jake Crocker, who owns F.W. Sullivan’s, said he believes those millions of dollars come from the city’s steep meals tax, which he said is already hurting Richmond restaurants. His statement has not been confirmed by officials.

Downey and City Council President Charles Samuels highlighted several incentive programs for local businesses at Monday’s meeting.

But, Crocker said those are only for certain “blighted” neighborhoods

People attending the meeting and people following along from home took to Twitter with their thoughts on the subject. Some expressed indignation over the community's sudden concern for the Fulton neighborhood, which has set mostly neglected over a 40-year period.



  • manlishi

    Richmond needs $100 million to repair the schools. But democrats would rather give 1/3 of it’s priority cash to an out of state brewer’s construction and business needs. Should the city’s residents deserve everything they vote for. Democrats are all the same.

  • Lisa

    it must be a real kick in the gut for locally owned/run restaurants. Those owners worked hard and took on financial risk. This was done all while paying taxes. Now a newcomer gets a good chunk of money to get started.

      • Manalishi

        ” They are a giant, successful company” Now they are nothing better than crony welfare recipients that would not be here without taxpayers handouts?

      • reeltime

        Karen please speak for yourself when you say we’re glad to have them. Myself and many associates do not share the same feeling of enlightment when this city continues to throw money at cooperate welfare all in the name of, it’s good for the city. Redskins??? Centerstage. With CEO Grg Koch being a billionaire, yes, B as in billion why should the taxpayers of this city throw 31 mil his way. That’s chump change to him. Especially when the schools, infrastructure and services are in complete shambles. And pay the highest rates in the area for mediocor performance. I also point out that according to Davenport, the city’s finacial advisor Richmond will not see a return until at least 15 years. And the transparency of all the dealings is another classic example of this administrations lack of concern for the middle class and poor of the city. And reviews I read from current and past employees are not very glowing. So Karen I am glad you are elated, maybe you and others that share that feeling will pick up my and others tab for this bill.

  • Randy Hawkins

    Can’t say I blame the protesters. These out of towers come in, ask the city for money, and don’t have to take any risk. If it fails, they don’t look bad, the city looks bad. I’ll keep buying local, not from these moneygrubbers.

  • Greg Koch

    For further perspective, please read the blog we posted on the ins and outs of the deal It clearly explains how we are paying back the City of Richmond, in full, with interest, and how we are putting a tremendous amount of skin in the game (to the tune of $40,000,000+).

    I must say I find it quite charming that I’ve magically been granted billionaire (with a ‘b’ no less!) status courtesy of a poster in a news report’s Comments section. However, that is simply factually inaccurate. I am not a billionaire, and nowhere close by any stretch. In 18 years, my partner Steve and I have taken z-e-r-o profits out of the company. We have, instead, reinvested every single cent and continued to work with bank financing to invest substantially more.

    In San Diego County, we have found that the rising tide floats all boats. When we opened in San Diego in 1996, there were approximately 15 breweries. Today, there are more than 100. Additionally, since we’ve opened our two large restaurants in San Diego County (2006 & 2013) the rest of the restaurant industry has continued to flourish and grow. Our brewery and restaurant in Escondido, CA has become the 3rd largest visitor destination in North County San Diego, behind the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park & Legoland (of all places!). Other restaurants close to us report doing more business as a result of our presence, not less. We work very very hard to grow the community, as you can see in this article:

    We work hard to work with the community, and to grow to mutual benefit. Most of the local RVA craft brewers have welcomed us with open arms, and an outstretched beer. They are awesome folks doing a great job. We are known for serving more guest craft beers on tap in our restaurants, than we have of our own beer, and we look forward to doing this at our Richmond restaurant. Traditional mentality would have that this is helping “the competition,” while instead we hold that it is working to rise that tide and that it’s helping to grow the craft brewing segment. Years of being engaged in this mentality in San Diego has born this out as the craft segment is booming in San Diego and elsewhere. The restaurant industry has also grown tremendously in San Diego County in terms of quality, variety and overall volume. Am I taking credit for this? Most certainly not. It’s because many hard working restauranteurs are doing really awesome things that command the interest and loyalty of their customers. Am I saying that Stone has not negatively impacted this, and has actually been a positive element? Absolutely. We love it here. We love working with our compatriots in the industry to give folks a great reason to visit. We look very forward to doing the same in RVA! We know we’ll bring more regional benefit than ‘competition.’

    It’s important to note that the leaders of Richmond and the state of Virginia worked very hard to put together a deal that they felt benefitted the community and the future of the region. True, they worked hard to woo us. We did not simply show up one day and start making demands (I don’t think that would have worked very well!). A scenario was created that was felt to be a win / win. If it wasn’t, this deal would not float from either side.

    I know that this may be unrealistic, but I’d urge folks to study up on us a little. Read the countless magazine and newspaper articles from over the years. View our website. See what we’re really about. True, we’re not perfect. We have some flaws (I certainly do). We make mistakes (I’ve made my share, but not really any super-big ones I’m glad to say!). However I think that you’ll find we have a strong reputation for ethics, cooperation in the industry, community interaction, support of a wide variety of charities, and working very hard to do our part to help build a more in-touch, sustainable and stronger world.

    Cheers! -Greg Koch, CEO & co-founder, Stone Brewing Co.

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