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Council struggles with oversight amendment to Stone Brewing deal

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Stone Brewery

Stone Brewing Company assembly line.

After an hourlong closed session, the Richmond City Council cast a series of split votes Monday night as members wrestled with the question of how to add more financial oversight to the city’s Stone Brewing deal.

Late last year, the council voted unanimously to give the Richmond Economic Development Authority $23 million to complete the first phase of the Stone project, which will involve the construction of a 200,000-square-foot brewing facility in Greater Fulton.

Construction on the project is expected to begin this week, but Monday’s meeting showed some legal issues are still unresolved.

Monday’s agenda included a proposed amendment to the deal to give the council more control over any excess revenue the development authority takes in from the project.

The council went into closed session almost immediately, citing the need to consult with legal counsel. When it returned, members voted to delay consideration of the amendment until next Monday after it became clear that it was incomplete and did not have enough votes to pass.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto had pushed for the oversight amendment.

The California-based craft brewer is expected to pay back the city’s investment over a 25-year lease with the authority, but the authority has not fully explained how it would use any excess revenue. Authority board member Rich Johnson has said revenue from the first phase could be used to fund the second phase, which involves the construction of a riverfront restaurant and beer garden at the former Intermediate Terminal building.

On Monday, Agelasto, who abstained from the vote authorizing the Stone financing last year, asked to continue the matter and modify the amendment at its Feb. 9 meeting.

The motion to continue failed on a 4-5 vote. Agelasto was joined by 1st District Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 2nd District Councilman Charles R. Samuels and 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell. A second vote to tweak the amendment based on draft language from City Attorney Allen L. Jackson failed on the same vote tally.

Agelasto reminded his colleagues that he read the proposed amendment before the funding vote last year, and no objections were raised then.

“Sadly, we get a couple months out and the meaning of the language may be different,” Agelasto said. “The largest area of difference at this stage is the acquisition of land for the Stone project. It is our understanding at this stage that we need to allow the EDA to acquire land. And by adopting such language, we could preclude the EDA from having sufficient funds to acquire such land.”

The development authority held a closed meeting last week to discuss land negotiations, but authority officials have not given a detailed accounting of how they plan to acquire the necessary land, a good portion of which is owned by the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Jackson told the council that, as the deal is currently written, the development authority has “flexibility” to use the Stone revenue for any lawful purpose.

“That would include items related to the Stone project as well as items unrelated to the Stone project,” he said.

The council members who voted in opposition to the amendment said they too want to see transparency and oversight in the Stone deal, but the language should be crafted correctly and approved at the right time. Samuels prompted a third vote by making another motion to postpone consideration of the amendment until next week.

During the roll call, 3rd District Councilman Chris A. Hilbert, who voted with the opposition in the first two votes, asked for extra time. After speaking privately with Council President Michelle R. Mosby, 9th District, and asking for a short recess, Hilbert voted in favor of continuing the amendment.

The way public officials acted last week, you would have thought they’d already had a long quaff of Stone Brewing Co.’s strongest. The company’s decision to place a brewery in Richmond “really puts Virginia on the map,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe enthused.


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