Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Capital Ale House Incentives Approved

As reported in today's Free Lance-Star under the somewhat confusing headline "City giving $100K to Capital Ale House", the Fredericksburg City Council has passed a $100,000 incentive package for the Richmond-based Capital Ale House:
Capital Ale House will get $100,000 in incentives from the city of Fredericksburg to build a bar and restaurant on Caroline Street.

The council approved the incentives package last night on a 5-2 vote, with council members Debby Girvan and Marvin Dixon opposed.

Girvan said she wanted the city to study the impact Ale House could have on similar existing downtown businesses.

"I would feel more comfortable if we knew what impact it was going to have downtown," Girvan said. "Until then, I think I'm going to have to not approve it tonight, but I want to make it clear that I think this is a good business and I welcome it to the city."

Dixon said he didn't think the city should incentivize the business "for a number of reasons I'm not going to go into."

City Economic Development Director Kevin Gullette said Ale House will provide "something that we are sorely lacking downtown"--a private business willing to put on large events that will draw lots of people to the historic central business district. Ale House puts on special events around St. Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest and other yearly celebrations at its other locations.

In response to Girvan's comments, Councilman George Solley said he had asked other bar owners downtown what they thought about Ale House's plans.

"The opinion of the people who run those establishments is pretty much uniformly that Capital Ale will help their businesses by drawing people downtown who would not necessarily come downtown," Solley said. "I don't think we need a formal economic study to realize that."

Vice Mayor Kerry Devine agreed.

"I think it goes directly with what we are trying to do, building up our evening clientele downtown," she said.

To echo Mayor Tomzak's remark to Capital Ale House after the vote, "Welcome to the 'hood." The Ale House presence downtown will be good news for craft beer aficionados, for other downtown establishments, the downtown evening-life, and the City coffers. Officials estimate they will bring in $1.7 million in new revenue over the course of the 10-year agreement. The FL-S article gives further details on the incentive packages. Other downtown restaurant owners will surely be inspired to upgrade their craft beer offerings. Capital Ale House was recently voted the 8th best beer bar in America for its downtown Richmond location, and the Innsbrook location was ranked 11th. The restaurant receives kudos not only for their craft beer selection but for the numerous events they sponsor at their locations. There are some folks in the area griping about encouraging this type of business, but they should realize it's more than just a great beer bar.

I hope to follow the progress to opening day very closely and post updates here. Ale House President Matthew Simmons has offered me access to the site to take pictures and report on the work being done. You'll be able to follow those reports here.

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