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Brewery on tap? Council hopes to bring big one to downtown Johnson City

March 21st, 2014 11:20 am by Nathan Baker

Brewery on tap? Council hopes to bring big one to downtown Johnson City

The WCEDC thinks the former Downtown Rafters site off State of Franklin Road near Legion Street would make the perfect spot for a brewery. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)

The Washington County Economic Development Council hopes a recent ambitious proposal could help land a major brewer in Johnson City.

The council recently answered a request for proposal from Stone Brewing Co. hoping to entice the West Coast company to locate a $20- to $40-million brewery in Johnson City.

Last month, the Escondido, Calif., beer and hospitality company cast a 2,000-mile-wide net, challenging any community east of the Mississippi River to convince them to put a new East Coast brewery in their towns.

The 83-page proposal submitted by the WCEDC points out Johnson City’s favorable qualities, from the relatively low property taxes to the nearby outdoor adventure opportunities, and identifies the land where the former Burley warehouse once stood and the adjacent vacant industrial buildings as the optimal location for the 130,000-square-foot brewery.

Along with the brewery, Stone is looking to include an outdoor garden and dining area, indoor dining and bar and a retail store.

WCEDC CEO Mitch Miller told the council’s board Thursday that 5-acre Burley site, now just a concrete pad, is owned by the city and the Development Council holds an option on the privately owned 11-acre industrial building complex.

“It has all the elements Stone would like to see,” Miller said. “There are some unique elements with this site, so we saw this as a great opportunity.”

Miller’s staff also produced a five-minute video to accompany the proposal document, hoping to give Johnson City the leg-up it needs to secure the beer maker.

In it, Alan Bridwell, the executive director of the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association, describes the city’s storied history with alcohol, from bootlegging to Al Capone’s gang.

“We had to find a way to set ourselves apart,” Miller said. “We really feel that this video is a unique way to talk about the history of Johnson City and how it would be perfect for a brewery like this.”

The video also shows city leaders pleading the case for the community and business professionals explaining why they chose Johnson City.

With the proposal, the WCEDC assaulted Stone on the social media front, as well, with a “Bring a Brewery to Johnson City, TN” Facebook page that heavily favored the California brewer.

As of Thursday night, the page had nearly 500 likes with positive comments related to Stone.

Miller said the multifaceted approach was needed to put Johnson City’s name in the running, against other eastern communities that may have more name recognition, like Asheville, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., all of which submitted proposals.

Stone spokesperson Sabrina LoPiccolo said in an email that there is not specific date set as to when the company will make a decision, but it is hoping to identify one and begin construction this year.

“Our search for a location to open an East Coast brewery is that broad and any cities meeting our site requirements outlined in our RFP will be considered,” LoPiccolo said of the Mississippi-to-Atlantic cast. “Our deadline for submissions was Saturday, March 15, at this time we are looking through proposals to identify a short list of locations that meet our needs.”

Stone, makers of Arrogant Bastard Ale, a slate of year-round India Pale Ales and seasonal releases of stouts and porters, has seen rapid expansion since founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner.

The business’ revenues have grown at an average rate of 47 percent each year, and in 2013, totaled more than $135 million.

The company expects production at its East Coast brewery is to top 120,000 barrels in the first phase and grow to nearly 500,000 thereafter.

In its proposal request, Stone said the operation will be staffed with more than 300 local employees, and construction and materials would likewise be sourced from the region, if possible.

At the Escondido site, the Brewing World Bistro & Gardens drew 600,000 visitors in 2012, and 60,000 took the offered tour of the brewing facility.

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