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The Mural Building, a Brewery, and Reservations for Two
And with angelic host proclaim…
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A brewery is born, baby!
An upscale brewery featuring indoor and outdoor entertainment space is coming to the Mural Building in downtown Willard — despite the somewhat perplexing hesitation of a couple of the aldermen.
In late summer of 2022, the City of Willard hired Economic Development Director Greg Williams. The Economic Development Department’s annual budget is approximately $140k, with roughly $100k going toward Mr. William’s salary. Judging from his resume, he’s an accomplished guy, having previously been tasked with economic development for the City of Springfield as Senior Vice President for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
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Due to the industry-standard confidential nature of the economic development process, details about the project are limited, but here’s what I’ve overheard at the board meetings since early December:
the brewery’s Springfield location has been in business for 25+ years
the architectural firm retrofitting the building is highly skilled at preserving and accentuating the flavor of old buildings
the brewery is hoping to be open sometime this summer
they plan to invest nearly $1 million dollars
the interior will include a bike shop for repairs and purchases
the mural will be preserved and fully incorporated into the facility design
The five thousand square foot Ozark Greenways-owned building has been leased to the City of Willard for $500 a month since at least 2014. The city uses the building for storage, but did not exercise the renewal option that is required under the current lease, which expires at the end of May.
Given the building’s direct proximity to the Frisco Highline Trail and downtown area, storage is probably the least best use of the property next to just letting it sit vacant.
Though a brewery is on the way, the non-renewal itself is an odd little story I detail below.
“I’d like to make reservations for two, please.”
At the Board of Aldermen meeting on December 12th, when the board appears to have first learned about the brewery, two aldermen expressed reservations and were very concerned by the effect the potential new business could have on existing businesses, particularly Pizano’s Pizza and Sauce Lounge, also located downtown.
Aldermen Corey Hendrickson, currently being investigated for allegedly embezzling from his former employer (an investigation recently turned over to the United States Secret Service), was particularly concerned:
“I’ll just be blunt…We as a city kind of put our foot in our mouths and don’t necessarily take care of local businesses when we can and should. And the fact that [this brewery] hasn’t had any talks with other local businesses [pause] it gives me some reservation on the project as a whole. We have fought long and hard to get away from the stigma that we are not business friendly.”
He continued, “Mr. Baird has done a lot more of that in the past with the Chamber than any of us other aldermen have. This whole thing leaves a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth.”
Economic Development Director Greg Williams had earlier explained how the brewery is very anxious to discuss complementary opportunities, such as coupons or combo-deals, with other businesses in the downtown area once the project was further along in the development process.
He went on to explain how the relationship would generate new business opportunities for existing businesses, and gave the example of Tie & Timber Beer Company in Springfield, whose patrons buy pizza across the street at IMO’s Pizza, and then bring it back to Tie & Timber to drink beer.
Alderman Hendrickson asked, “[That’s] great when that happen, but what happens if they’re blowing smoke up your butt?”
Alderman Sam Baird stated one of his concerns, “What happens if they open a pizzeria as part of their business?”
Mr. Williams explained, “There’s no intent to do a kitchen or a food service whatsoever, it’s simply…”
Alderman Hendrickson interrupted, “No intent doesn’t change…”
Mr. Williams continued, “They’re a very long-term successful enterprise in Springfield. They do things right. They take that very seriously.” He went on to explain, “Those discussions [with other business owners] would be considered to be premature, if not early, because they don’t have their site plan, their interior cost, their repurposing plans, architectural drawings, nothing. Rest assured, we will see that those conversations…occur.”
Alderman Hendrickson continued, “The way I see it, it will shut down the one bar downtown that currently exists, most likely run them out of business.”
Greg stated, “I don’t share that opinion, but I respect it.”
Hendrickson continued, “That gives me a lot of hesitation just in the fact that [pause] we need to protect what we have. I would hope everybody would agree to that.”
Man of Missouri would point out that the above attitude toward business is dangerously similar to a much larger dynamic that plays out at the state and national level. A destructive dynamic that partly explains why American healthcare (among other things) is so insanely expensive — because the government steps in and protects existing business — hospitals, insurance companies, etc. — from competition. Competition that would otherwise result in providing continually improving and less expensive goods and services to the consumer. Crony capitalism, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite.
Alderman Hendrickson went on, “Just for the record, I’m all for new businesses. And opportunity. And I’m well aware that there’s nothing we can do to guarantee that nobody has any business [pause]. We don’t prevent business competition. We can’t do that. That would be silly to even think about. But, umm…”
Alderman Baird jumped back in, “But we need to be careful about how we act in terms of giving special circumstances to new businesses.”
Hendrickson continued, “We are promoting this new business…Giving them a facility at a very good rate that is less than what current competing businesses are paying rent-wise, and only because we’re trying to hasten the process of getting ourselves out of the building…Is that not in some way an unfair advantage…?”
Baird interjected, “A facility that we’ve already got.”
Mr. Williams explained, “We’re not giving them the building at a discounted lease rate, that’s not our buidling to do so [emphasis added]. It’s Ozark Greenways building, and they will not sell that buidling, they have some covenants and restrictions with the railroad administration.”
Hendrickson continued, “Nobody is saying that, but…promoting it this way is a bit, a little bit, of an unfair advantage for this new business.”
Baird stated, “So I guess, my heartburn on this is, apparently we’ve not reached out to Pizano’s or the Stewarts [owners of Pizano’s] regarding any of this.”
Mr. Williams answered, “In my opinion, that would be very premature at this point.”
Baird countered, “Getting feedback [from the Stewarts] after the fact is just the opposite of premature; it’s too late.”
Mr. Williams answered, “We won’t see any site plans or anything until mid-January. But I can call [the brewery] tonight and strongly encourage them to get up here and have those conversations with business owners. We could do that this week.”
Alderman Hendrickson stated, “We seem to be harping on Pizano’s and that’s, again, the one business that makes the most sense but, ya know, reading between the lines it looks like you want to bring in…What does that do to the business of Top Hat [Package Liquor]? That’s been around for, shit, before I moved into town twenty years ago.”
Mr. Williams pointed out, “Yes, there are existing enterprises, but we’re also looking at creating new opportunities for jobs, for tax revenue, for adding an amenity to a busy recreational trail. It all just kind of fits together in our mind.”
The stalling process??
The city’s lease on the Mural Building contained a requirement to give six months notice for non-renewal. If the city did not intend to renew the lease at the end of May, the board was required to approve and submit the notice of non-renewal to Ozark Greenways by mid-January.
The discussion at the December 12th meeting above turned to ensuring the city was able to continue the lease if the brewery fell through. Despite being assured by Mr. Williams that the property, due to its structure and location, was one of the least-marketable properties in Greene County, Alderman Hendrickson and Baird wanted Ozark Greenways’ assurances in writing.
Alderman Hendrickson asked City Attorney Ken Reynolds if he saw it that way, too. That is, if the project fell through, the city would have the right to rent the building again before anyone else.
Attorney Reynolds explained that Ozark Greenways had always been extremely easy to get along with, “But your downside is that they may lease [the Mural Building] to someone else if [the brewery] doesn’t go through. [But] I’d take that chance because, if you’re right, and [the brewery] does mesh well with our existing businesses, you don’t want to give up that opportunity.”
Reynolds went on, “You can certainly enter into an agreement with Ozark Greenways…I can draft an agreement that says if they decline not to go forward, that the lease continues on.”
He would prepare an MOU, a memorandum of understanding.
Alderman Baird stated, “I’m excited about the possibility here. [But] I’m very worried about giving up a $500-a-month, five thousand square foot building.”
Hendrickson added, “If this isn’t due until January, I’d just make a motion to table this until the next meeting when we have [the MOU] in hand to review.”
Mayor Samuel Snider intervened, “We have a million dollar potential investment, and you [Economic Development Director Greg Williams] have been with the city how long?” Mr. Williams had been with the city about three months. “And, I know you’ve been asked the question, ‘How will we know when you’ve done your job in terms of bringing something to our economy.’ And [here] we have a potential million dollar investment.”
Alderman Hendrickson, “And tabling this item for two weeks affects that how?”
Mayor Snider, “Because what this is is stalling the entire process.”
Alderman Hendrickson, “By tabling it for two weeks until we have the [memorandum of understanding] in hand to actually review, how does that stall the project…if they’re still in the preliminary phases…?”
Mr. Williams interjected, “Other than Greenways coming to lease terms with [the brewery], [the city doesn’t] have a role.”
Alderman Baird seconded Alderman Hendrickson’s motion, which the board voted unanimously to approve. They would wait to give notice until they had an understanding in writing from Ozark Greenways ensuring the city could lease the property if the deal fell through.
“Two Weeks ‘til Giving Notice” starring Sandra Bullock, Hugh Grant, and several Willard aldermen
Two weeks later, at the December 27th meeting of the Board of Aldermen, Attorney Ken Reynolds provided the memorandum of understanding. The requested MOU now “in hand”, Alderman Larry Whitman made a motion to approve the notice of non-renewal with Ozark Greenways.
There was a long pause.
Other than Whitman, the meeting was attended only by Aldermen Baird and Hendrickson, along with Alderman Landon Hall. Ryan Simmons was absent. The sixth alderman seat has been vacant for the past eight months.
No one seconded Alderman Whitman’s motion.
The memorandum — requested by Hendrickson and Baird at the prior meeting — died a strangely unnecessary and untimely death on the city’s operating table.
From six months notice, to none given at all
The impending need to give notice to Ozark Greenways was discussed again at the January 9th meeting of the Board of Aldermen.
Alderman Hendrickson again expressed concerns about the project, stating he did not want the city to give up the Mural Building without having more information about the proposed business.
After the discussion, Alderman Baird made a motion to delay giving notice until the board was provided more specific information about the brewery. Hendrickson seconded the motion, and the board voted unanimously to approve. Once again, for the third meeting in a row, giving the required notice to Ozark Greenways would be delayed.
Finally, at the January 23rd meeting, the board learned from interim City Administrator Steve Bodenhamer that the city had received a letter from Ozark Greenways dated January 17th. The letter informed the board that since the deadline for the notice of non-renewal had passed, the city’s lease on the Mural Building would not be renewed.
The city must vacate the premises by no later than midnight on May 31st.
Whether the deadline was simply overlooked or ignored, I do not know.
Either way, it looks like Willard will be getting a brewery.
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