Stone Brewing Co. is going on a public-relations offensive to counter complaints by some local restaurant and brewery owners about the economic development deal drawing the business to Richmond.
Stone plans to launch a Richmond-specific website to offer the company’s take on the $32 million, city-funded project, alongside testimonials from restaurant owners and brewers in San Diego, California, where Stone is based, according to Craig Spitz, the company’s chief financial officer.
“A lot of people will make negative comments when they don’t really know the situation,” Spitz says. “So we want to basically put a website together that people can go to and see what’s going on and the real situation.”
Stone offered a preview of its strategy last week, playing a four-minute video at a Richmond City Council hearing which featured testimonials from San Diego restaurant owners.
“If Stone wasn’t in the community and I found out they were moving into the part of San Diego I’m in, I’d be absolutely thrilled,” says one interviewee, Grant Tondro, who owns three restaurants in the area. “What’s happened with the beer culture in San Diego in particular, as well as the food culture, as a result of Stone coming in is immeasurable.”
Spitz says Stone is in the process of producing more videos.
The city is taking out $23 million in bonds to finance the construction of Stone’s Richmond brewery in the Fulton Hill area. It will put up another $8 million for Stone to construct a riverfront restaurant.
The plan is for Stone to pay the money back in lease payments over the next 25 years. At the end of the lease, the company has the option to buy the brewery and land for $25,000.
City economic development officials say the deal will bring hundreds of jobs and spark long-needed revitalization in the Fulton neighborhood.
Some local restaurant owners and brewers aren’t so sure. They’ve said it looks more like the city is subsidizing competition in an already crowded marketplace.
This won’t be Stone’s first foray into public relations. Shortly after the deal was announced last year, the company's marketing staff wrote and circulated a long article detailing the project and how the company wound up in Richmond.
And two weeks ago, the brewery played host to two City Council members, who made an unpublicized, cross-country trip to tour Stone’s San Diego facility. The members, Ellen Robertson and Cynthia Newbille, who initially declined to discuss the trip with Style, say they went in part to explore concerns raised by local restaurant owners. Newbille paid for her trip. Robertson says she used City Council funds.
“I walked away with a whole new perspective related to the corporation,” Robertson says.
Both women stressed that their research didn’t end with the trip. Newbille says that in going over the numbers upon returning home, “the return on investment is clear.”