Announcement of tax dollars for brewery raises new set of questions




It appears that Pinehurst Village government has jumped head-first into the venture capital game — picking winners and losers by investing tax dollars in certain enterprises seeking to locate in-town.  First, we’re funding a feasibility study for a brand new privately-owned and operated performing arts center.  Now, it appears that we, the taxpayers, are picking up the tab for an existing business to move from downtown Aberdeen to the outer edge of Old Town Pinehurst.

Village government has announced acquisition of funding for the relocation of Aberdeen’s Railhouse Brewery:

The Village of Pinehurst has been awarded a $200,000 grant from the NC Department of Commerce’s 2011 Main Street Solutions Fund.  The grant will be used to assist Railhouse Brewery renovate the historic steam plant building on Magnolia Road. 

With a growing business and limited space, Railhouse Brewery took a look at the steam plant building as a possible site for relocation.  “The old steam plant has so much character that complements our business and has the space we need to expand our operations,” says Mike Ratkowski, co-owner of Railhouse Brewery.

Assistant Village Manager, Natalie Dean, identified the Main Street Solutions Fund grant as a possible financial resource for Railhouse and completed the grant application that was filed in early January.  “This grant makes the project financially feasible for Railhouse Brewery to acquire the steam plant building from Pinehurst, LLC and make the needed improvements,” says Natalie Dean.

Really? According to Moore County tax records, the property in question is valued at $185,000, is still owned by Pinehurst LLC, and last had a title transfer in 1985.   Read on:

As part of the project, the Village of Pinehurst will construct a portion of the public road called for on the steam plant site in the Village’s New Core Master Plan.  The road construction will include off-street angled parking, brick sidewalks, street lighting, and landscaping.
The $200,000 Main Street Solutions Fund grant was based on the number of new full-time positions added as a result of the project.  Upon completion of the renovations, Railhouse Brewery will add eight full time positions to the local economy and the grant reimburses small businesses at a rate of $25,000 per full-time position, up to a maximum of $200,000. 

Adding jobs to the local economy? They are only moving a few miles down the road from their current location in  Aberdeen!  Does this move now qualify Aberdeen to apply for state funds to compensate for the loss of a small business from its historic downtown area?   Read on:

The Main Street Solutions Fund’s purpose is to provide economic development planning assistance and coordinated grant support to designated micropolitans located in Tier 2 and 3 counties and to active North Carolina Main Street communities.  The Village of Pinehurst is considered a micropolitan by the state’s standards, making the Village eligible to apply.

The grant program is intended to strengthen the local economy and its role as a regional growth and employment hub.  This is accomplished by leveraging the state’s resources for small business development, spurring private investment, and providing economic development planning assistance and coordinated grant support. 

Village leaders also broke their necks to make special exceptions to the village’s PDO to benefit this project.  On Feb, 28, the village council held two public hearings:

Public Hearing #2: Official text amendment to the Pinehurst Development Ordinance Section Signage in the Village Mixed Use District (VMU). The purpose of this amendment is to allow for exceptions to sign types and sign sizes within the VMU district if the signage is approved as part of a major special use permit.  The applicant is the Village of Pinehurst.

Public Hearing #3: Official text amendment to the Pinehurst Development Ordinance Section a) & the addition of Section c) Off Street Parking, Loading and Unloading areas in the Village Mixed Use District (VMU). This proposed amendment will not require the minimum parking requirement to apply for development proposals that consist of at least one of the historic structures listed in the NewCore Plan if it is shown that there is adequate public on or off street parking available to support the uses as part of the major special use process. The applicant is the Village of Pinehurst.

Isn’t that special?  The ABC store is now located on NC5 near the border with Aberdeen because the village wouldn’t let them erect a canopy at their old location in historic downtown Pinehurst  to block the afternoon sun.

Railhouse  is basically a bar that makes its own beer.  Not too long ago, The Darling House Pub spent a lot of money renovating and up-fitting its current location in historic downtown Pinehurst.  I am not aware of them receiving any tax money or special zoning exceptions.  The Pinecrest Inn recently completed renovations to their historic structure.  I am not aware of them receiving any tax dollars or special zoning help from the state or the village.  If Dugan’s seeks to expand within the historic downtown area, will they be eligible for tax dollars and zoning favors?  Where do you now draw the line and say NO?  With this precedent, HOW CAN you draw the line and say NO to any future funding solicitors? 

What happens if Railhouse fails at this new location?  Will the state or the village then own the brewery, or will we the taxpayers be SOL to the tune of $200K-plus?  How much will Railhouse be paying out of pocket?  Why couldn’t they go to a bank?  Are taxpayers ONLY on the hook for $200K?  (The facts of the case suggest a much higher figure.)

If you really want to economically stimulate downtown Pinehurst, village hall needs to be de-nazified.  Stop harassing people and chasing them to Aberdeen, Taylortown and Southern Pines.  Cutting sweetheart deals for certain projects — for the sake of good publicity for certain politicians and bureaucrats — is going to leave a real bad taste in the mouths of existing businesses and other long time village residents and supporters.

Stop trying to pick winners and losers.  Leave that to the free market.  It’s got a pretty good track record.