Alamo Beer Company's $8-million brewing facility on the near Eastside of San Antonio hosted a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning to mark the beginning of production, which will start later this month. About 14 million bottles of Alamo beer will be brewed in the 18,000 square-foot facility that neighbors and community leaders say will be a catalyst for further investment and opportunity in the low-income neighborhoods of the Eastside.
Alamo Golden Ale has been brewed for some years at the Real Ale Brewery in Blanco. In addition to making the brand more puro San Antonio, the facility further links the historic Dignowity Hill neighborhood to emerging entertainment and retail corridors in and around the Pearl. More than 50 supporters of Alamo Beer gathered for the ceremony and morning brew in the courtyard between the facility's three buildings, which include a separated structure for offices and bathrooms, a Beer Hall/open-air bar, and the brewery itself.
While beer production begins in December, the brewery won't be open to the public until March 6. The Beer Hall and Garden – 15,800 square feet combined – are available for private rental until then.
"This would not have happened without the support of the neighborhood – the neighborhood that lives right next door to this facility," said Eugene Simor, founder and CEO of Alamo Beer Company. The project received overwhelming support from the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. "Not outsiders."
The "outsiders" he referred to were a handful of protesters who stood on the Hays Street Bridge to heckle speakers and disrupt the celebration.
Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and her colleagues chants and screams included:
"Liar, liar, gentrifier!"
"¡Cállete!" Shut up!
"¡Sinvergüenza!" No shame!
The most succinct disapproval of the protesters came from Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was the District 2 council member when Simor began the brewery's development two years ago, and who resides with her family in Dignowity Hill blocks from the brewery.
"I will be candid and say I'm actually very, very angry at the protesters right now because this is a milestone and a moment that we have looked forward to on the Eastside for years," Taylor said. "Reinvestment in our neighborhoods on this side of town, bringing jobs and new development to east San Antonio, is something that we have worked towards for years. I think this is a case study that shows how difficult it can be to redevelop older parts of any city. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude and thanks to Eugene Simor for his vision and for his patience because it would have been very easy for him to walk away from this project in the light of a small band of outsiders – who have no stake in this neighborhood – coming in and shouting loudly."
Taylor's comments were welcomed with warm applause.
The Esperanza Center has organized several protests against the development of the land on either side of the Hays Street Bridge and many of its members lead the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, which filed a lawsuit against the City of San Antonio claiming a breach of contract and that the property was intended to be public park land. Though Simor's intent was to build on the north side of the bridge to avoid interfering with the view of downtown San Antonio from the Eastside bridge, the delay caused by the lawsuit led him to change plans and build on the south side of the bridge along Burnet Street.
The jury itself was unable to reach unanimous agreement in July, voting 11-1 that the City of San Antonio breached its written agreement with the group to use the Cherry Street lot for parkland, even as it ruled the City is not obligated to put the matter to voters because the land was conveyed to the City without restrictions to make it a park.
City Council voted Thursday to allow Alamo Beer Company's purchase of the vacant lot next to the brewery for $295,000. Simor said the space would be used for parking, a restaurant, retail space, and possibly apartments.
"The City is just proceeding with what they believe the judge required them to do, which was sell the land – which was considered part of the fund – and keep the proceeds from the sale to go towards the bridge (restoration) project."
The Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group has begun looking into challenging the legality of this sale and its members say they were not aware of the Thursday vote until after the meeting closed.
"No one told us about the vote," shouted one member from the rooftop. The group was under the impression that negotiations were still underway, that no council action would take place before further talks.
"Yesterday's vote went through the City Council's process, a posting of the agenda, and everything else," Simor said. "It's not right to have a protest (to) break up a celebratory moment for a small business person when you have a disagreement ... If they want to sit down and talk, happy to do it."
Even Fr. Kevin Fausz, university chaplain at Our Lady of the Lake University, was mocked and called names during his opening prayer and blessing. The shouting paused only for the color guard, presented by the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-Dist. 123), who is running for mayor in the May city elections, addressed the protesters directly several times during his remarks.
"Today we have both an opportunity to celebrate, but also an opportunity to reflect. I think the protesters here certainly give us pause," he said. "We obviously have more work to be done."
Villarreal said the $8-million facility is cause for celebration but that a stronger dialogue should have been opened up between the City, Alamo Beer, and the protesting groups.
"Going to court is usually the worst way to resolve a problem. A better way is to sit down and have a conversation. Our city should be about reconciling differences," he said, adding that he was disappointed that it took two years to complete the project. "There will be many more projects, I hope, where we see real investment in our older neighborhoods, but we have to do it in a way that builds trust with all of our citizens. Because without trust, democracy really does grind to a halt."
Mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte largely ignored the protesters, focusing instead on thanking military veterans and the legislation she and her colleagues worked on for three years to allow small craft breweries such as Alamo Beer to thrive in Texas.
The beer law reforms passed in 2013 and eased sales restrictions on small producers, "knowing that people like Eugene and the craft brew industry were at a distinct disadvantage because they weren't on a level playing field," she said. "Because of the laws that were passed ... we will add billions of dollars (to the economy) and jobs in this state by 2020 because of craft brew."
*Featured/top image: Brewery supporters bow their heads in prayer while a handful of protesters (left) shout and chant from the Hays Street Bridge during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies at the Alamo Beer Company brewery. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
This story was originally published on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.