April 11, 2014

Lexington in running for massive craft brewery operation, beer garden

Nearly 400 jobs are on the line; other communities are in the running

Lexington County is in the running for a massive craft brewery operation that would be a game changer for the area, according to Randy Halfacre, president and CEO of the Greater Lexington Chamber and Visitors Center.

“It’s a huge project,” he said.

Stone Brewing Co., based in Escondido, Calif., is looking to locate an East Coast Brewery and beer garden for tourists somewhere east of the Mississippi River, a $31 million investment that calls for nearly 400 employees within five years, making between $12 and $48 an hour. Proposals from interested communities were due about a month ago, according to the company, the 10th largest craft brewer in the United States.

The brewery – which makes such colorful products as Arrogant Bastard Ale and Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA – would produce 120,000 barrels of beer the first two years, according to the company’s request for proposals, which is a guideline for communities asking to be considered for the project.

But Lexington has some stiff competition.

A range of cities throughout the Carolinas and other states are making a push for the brewery, including Myrtle Beach and Charlotte, according to published reports.

Company spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo said the company is not disclosing how many cities made proposals or a timeline for making a decision. However, it shouldn’t be long. LoPiccolo said construction on the new brewery will begin this year.

Halfacre said Lexington has “made the first cut,” although neither the company nor the S.C. Department of Commerce would confirm that.

The company is basing its decision on factors such as cost of operations, development challenges, creativity and what it described as “a significant weighting” on incentive and development packages available.

A spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Commerce declined to say whether the state has offered any incentives, saying the department does not discuss potential economic development projects.

Lexington has some advantages, according to Halfacre:

•  The brewery could use cleaner “surface water” from Lake Murray in its operations instead of saltwater that would have to go through an osmosis process.

The county has proposed the operations be built on 22 acres adjacent to the new Avtec facility, which is located just off I-20 and would allow easy transport of freshly brewed beer throughout the East Coast region.

•  An accompanying bistro and beer garden would be a perfect fit with the county’s master plan to build a town plaza and amphitheater. Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens would be developed as a regional tourist destination. It would be a place for visitors to enjoy craft beer, meals and a walk through the gardens, similar to the company’s California locations, according to the request for proposals.

The company also favors communities with a strong university presence, where it can establish a relationship “to engage in talent and industry development, student internships and potential lab/research initiatives,” according to its request for proposals. Put another checkmark in the column for Lexington, which is just minutes from the state’s flagship University of South Carolina.

Overall, “We think it would be a perfect situation,” Halfacre said.

Brew bits

California-based Stone Brewing is looking to open an East Coast brewery and beer garden. Lexington County submitted a bid to be considered for the project. Here is what it would bring:

374 employees within five years, with salaries ranging from $12 an hour to $48 an hour

$31 million investment over five years

Brewery producing 120,000 barrels of craft beer in the first two years

Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens retail operations, designed as a tourist draw

How to support the selection process: To lobby Stone Brewing to Lexington, ‘like’ the Facebook page, “Stone Brewing Co.: Come Experience Lexington.”

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