In the aftermath of Buncombe County’s two-year effort to convince Orgegon-based Deschutes Brewery to build its East Coast expansion here, some critics have questioned the strategies employed. Buncombe County Commission Chair David Gantt released today (March 30) a timeline of events and supplemental documents correlated to Deschutes’ decision.
The behind-closed-doors courtship began in February 2014, after Deschutes confidentially expressed its interest in locating in the Asheville area. That interest prompted a joint effort by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Coalition and the Buncombe County government that led to the purchase of 137-acre property on Ferry Road, a Buncombe County parcel that was owned by Henderson County, as a potential expansion site for the brewery. Without publicly disclosing the reason for its purchase, Buncombe acquired the property in April 2015 for $6.8 million.
In the following months, Deschutes continued to express interest in Asheville while also investigating alternate expansion sites in other cities.
In September 2015, commissioners Miranda DeBruhl, Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher requested an agenda item to direct County Manager Wanda Greene to solicit bids for the Ferry Road parcel, which was at that point being confidentially held as part of the Deschutes negotiations. Documents indicate there were pleas from the EDC negotiating team not to move forward with the agenda item, “while negotiations with Deschutes are continuing and going well.”
On October 5, 2015, DeBruhl said on Twitter, “I’m glad to know that @DeschutesBeer [Deschutes Brewery] is officially interested in @buncombeGov [Buncombe County] via @asheville [Asheville Citizen-Times]. Can Michael Lalonde talk tomorrow?”
The next day, brewery President Michael LaLonde emailed Greene to say that DeBruhl had called him to express her concern that Deschutes had not yet made a decision. Gantt’s timeline states that DeBruhl’s action was taken “without knowledge/coordination/discussion with negotiation team or other Commissioners.”
Also on Oct. 6, DeBruhl used Twitter to say: “Got more done in 7 minutes this AM than was done in the last 7 months on not so ‘secret’ Ferry Rd. project.” She then tweeted, “I confirmed this morning there was no company interested in closing a deal on Ferry Rd property when @buncombeGov bought it #fairytale,” and followed that with “Confirmed this AM, there was never a deal for any company to build at Ferry Rd when @buncombeGov bought the land. #fairytale.”
A deal between the county and the brewery to build would seem unlikely at the time of the parcel’s purchase because at that point Deschutes was stating publicly it had not settled on a site for its expansion.
LaLonde’s Oct. 6 email to Greene also notes, “I told her [Commissioner DeBruhl] that our company continues to be very interested in that site but we are in the process of performing the final due diligence, including site specific engineering. Thank you and the Commissioners for purchasing the site and holding it so we can perform the necessary due diligence.”
At the commissioners’ meeting that day, DeBruhl made a motion to withdraw the resolution to solicit new bids for the 137 Ferry Road parcel. It passed unanimously. The minutes of the commissioners’ Oct. 6, 2015, meeting indicate DeBruhl requested the agenda item be removed “based on new information.”
Gantt defended the land purchase at the commissioners’ April 7, 2015, meeting, saying if the company goes somewhere else, the county could still sell the property to another industry.
How Deschutes Brewery’s leadership team interpreted the acts of September and October are unclear, but on Nov. 20, 2015, EDC Executive Director Ben Teague emailed Greene that the brewery had “decided to pursue an alternate site over the Asheville location at this time. I fear the unexpected public discussion to sell Bent Creek Site in October, and subsequent social media comments by officials denigrating the company stood in contrast to the universal and orchestrated outpouring of support of our competition.”
Deschutes made its decision public on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will hold its regular meeting this coming Tuesday, April 5, and Gantt says these events will likely be discussed during the meeting.
You can view a complete timeline and supplemental documents here.