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Brewery battle in Tampa neighborhood | News

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Brewery battle in Tampa neighborhood

Tampa, Florida --  In the last two years, Cigar City Brewery has grown beyond the expectations of owner, Joey Redner.

In 2008, he started the W. Spruce Street microbrewery with two employees and brewed about 1,000 barrels of craft beer.

This year, he says he and his 22 employees are on tap to produce more than 5,000 barrels...or 1.6 million bottles of beer.

"It's a never ending battle to keep up with demand," he said.

There are a lot of states he says he could have built the brewery that have more "brewery friendly" laws, but chose his hometown of Tampa with its rich history and tradition.

"In the end, I'm a Tampa guy and I wanted to be in Tampa.  It's where my family is, it's where I was born and raised and I'm just very much enamored with the city," he said.

He's so enamored with Tampa Bay and its history, each bottle of his craft brew tells a story of the areas past.

Brewing in one of the stainless steel tanks on Wednesday was....Jose Marti.

"Jose Marti was, they call him the George Washington of Cuba and he was a frequent Tampa visitor, lived here for a bit and stayed with a lady named Pauline Pedosa...was an amazing poet actually," he explained.

"I'm a history buff," he smiled.  Jose Marti is joined by other brews like Jai Alai India Pale Ale, Bolita Double Nut Brown Ale (named for a lottery game popular in Tampa's history) and Tocabaga Ale (named for Tampa's first inhabitants).

"We have this platform, we have people that are going to put something in their hand and they're gonna read it, why not throw a  little bit of history of where you're from on the bottle," he said.

While good beer is just part of his success, he attributes the growth to the on-site Tasting Room.

In the world of microbreweries, Redner says a tasting room is a must have ,giving customers a fresh taste of their brews and allowing them to connect with their fans.

He estimates sales from the Tasting Room generate about 25% of the overall revenue.

"That income has helped grow the brewery, it's added tanks, it's put stainless on the floor," he said.

The future of the Tasting Room may be at stake.

It's been operating under a temporary wet zone permit through the city for the last two years and it's due to expire this month.

On Thursday, the Tampa City Council will decide whether to grant Redner's request to make the wet zone permanent.

It's put a bad taste in the mouth of homeowners in the nearby Carver City and Lincoln Gardens neighborhoods.

"We didn't want it there in the first place," said Harvey Nichols who has called Lincoln Gardens home for 54 years.

While he's watched the city grow up around him, he says the microbrewery is too close to home...less than one hundred feet from the nearest house.

And, he says the Tasting Room is a step too far.

"We just want a nice community like Beach Park and Davis Islands.  We want the same respect they get because they pay taxes and we do too," he said.

Nichols and his neighbors say they don't feel as if the City Council has listened to them in the past, ignoring their concerns about a brewery in their neighborhood.

Still, he says he'll fight against the permanent wet zone proposal on Thursday.

Nichols says he fears it will contribute to crime and increased traffic.

"We want it closed, the whole thing gone," he said.

Redner says they haven't contributed to any problems in the neighborhood and says the Tampa Police Department's numbers backs up his claim.

"I completely understand their concerns.  I wouldn't want a business in my neighborhood that was going to be an irresponsible vendor of alcohol, that was going to cause crime," said Redner, "My counter to that is, we're not that, we don't cause these problems." 

The City Council voted 3-3 last month during a first reading, with Councilman Charlie Miranda absent.  It will go to a second reading on Thursday because the City Charter requires at least 4 votes on either side of the issue, according to the city attorney.

"I'm nervous because our fate is not in our hands," he said.  If the council refuses his wet zone requests, he says he may have to lay off the nine people the Tasting Room employs.

The Redner name should be familiar.  Redner's father, Joe Redner is the owner of Mons Venus in Tampa and is an investor in the Cigar City Brewery.

The men say they're not doing harm to the neighborhood.  Instead, they believe they are attracting tourists to the area, contributing to the economy and creating jobs.

Joe Redner says he hasn't heard from anyone in the neighborhood personally about their concerns.

"I want them to understand we're not going to cause any problems for this neighborhood.  It's just not gonna happen, I won't allow it to happen.  If they ever came to me...in two years they haven't...with a legitimate incident of something we caused in their neighborhood, I would do everything in my power to fix it," said Redner.





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