Several breweries already pay into the special tax on downtown property that helps fund WDI, which may be why brewers didn’t go for WDI’s suggestion that donations could help local craft beer get sold at its concert series.
WILMINGTON — The Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance says it is disappointed in Wilmington Downtown Incorporated’s (WDI) recent decision against allowing local craft brewery vendors into the Downtown Sundown Concert Series.
Before the series’ first concert in May, WDI’s Play Committee declined to allow a downtown brewery to sell its product at the concerts.
Emails show the committee was concerned about “giving all brewers a chance.” Meaning, if it let one craft brewer into the venue as a vendor, the committee worried WDI may not have space or resources to accommodate all local breweries.
Instead, WDI is partnered with Adam’s Beverages (which recently acquired R.A. Jeffreys) to sell alcohol throughout the 15-set concert series.
The non-profit sold local beer at the series in the past but hasn’t recently. Last year, WDI’s director said a local vendor backed out last minute; this year, he said logistical setbacks are at play. Because of ongoing repairs to the riverwalk’s bulkhead, Downtown Sundown had to relocate the well-known riverfront series a couple of blocks east inland. The move is temporary for this season, but created a new set of hurdles for WDI’s organizers.
“WDI supports local craft breweries and has a long track record of doing so,” Ed Wolverton, WDI’s president and CEO, wrote in an email Friday. “Downtown Sundown has offered local craft beer in the past and we are actively working on a fair and equitable solution to have this option in the future.”
WDI’s core mission is to promote business in downtown Wilmington. The non-profit is funded by city taxpayers (with a small contribution from the county), revenue from donations and events, and taxes generated from properties in Wilmington’s Municipal Service District.
New Anthem Beer Project, Front Street Brewery, Edward Teach Brewery, Ironclad Brewery, and Flytrap Brewing all pay into this new downtown tax — established in 2016 — on top of city and county taxes.
Last fiscal year, WDI received $377,000 collected from Municipal Service District (MSD) taxes and $86,000 from the City of Wilmington. On Tuesday, Wilmington City Council will consider rewarding WDI $407,735 in MSD tax revenues in a renewed professional services agreement; the recommended budget for the upcoming year also includes $87,720 in funding as an “economic development partner” of the city. A bulk of these funds go toward WDI’s ambassador program, which it subcontracts out to Allied Universal. Downtown Ambassadors are tasked with increasing safety in the MSD and keeping it clean.
MSD funds cannot be used for Downtown Sundown Concert Series, Wolverton said.
He said the mission of the series is to draw people to nearby shops, breweries, and other attractions. “I would venture to say that quite a few say that that happens — that they benefit from having the event,” Wolverton said.
For the series, which is free to the public, Wolverton said alcohol sales are WDI’s largest revenue stream. WDI also accepts, and in recent years has encouraged, monetary sponsorship from vendors.
“Downtown Sundown accepts monetary and in-kind sponsorships,” Wolverton said. “We have periodically allowed outside vendors for a fee, similar to other major events.”
On Facebook, Front Street Brewery spokesperson Ellie Craig shared her reaction to the Play Committee’s recent move to turn down Edward Teach Brewery. Edward Teach Brewery offered to provide its own bartenders, refrigeration, equipment and lowered its cost-per-case to meet WDI’s specifications.
“This is just another pay to play situation,” Craig wrote on Facebook. “If a craft brewery came forward and paid that level of sponsorship money, they would then be able to pour beer. And I know this because I’ve asked on behalf of a local craft brewery.”
On Friday, Craig said she could not comment further on her Facebook comments. She said she had posted as an individual, not on behalf of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance (CFCBA). Craig said that while the alliance is disappointed by WDI’s decision, she still hopes to see craft beer at Downtown Sundown.
“It does seem like a bit of a conflict of interest when you have several craft breweries operating in the downtown area and your core mission statement is to support those brick-and-mortar businesses,” she said Friday.
Jeremy Tomlinson, CFCBA’s president, said he’s similarly tried to get local beer into Downtown Sundown. In 2017, Tomlinson presented WDI with a proposal on behalf of several breweries. He said CFCBA structured its proposal to meet WDI’s parameters.
“WDI made the decision to not go with it,” Tomlinson said. “They mentioned that in previous years they had had a brewery that made donations and that perhaps that would help to push it through.”
WDI encouraged Tomlinson to consider a similar approach. The brewers Tomlinson approached were not interested in the suggested donation. On Friday, Tomlinson shared a press release on behalf of the alliance, that advocated for increased local craft beer at local events.
“Downtown Sundown is just one of our local events where there’s not local beer representation,” Tomlinson said. “We want to make sure at other city and local events that our locally-made beer is represented well. We just want to make sure we’re given a shot to have local beer on tap.”
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