Richmond restaurant owners speak out against city funding for Stone Brewing

Posted at 10:12 PM, Dec 08, 2014

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.