BRISTOL, Va. — A divided Bristol Virginia City Council approved borrowing up to $650,000 Tuesday night to purchase a building that could serve as a new location for the Department of Social Services.

The council voted 3-1 with one member absent, to approve the general obligation bond borrowing for a 10-year term at a 3.39% interest rate. The vote followed a brief debate. The city is buying the former Virginia Employment Commission office at 192 Bristol East Road, near Interstate 81’s Exit 7. It plans to acquire and renovate the 11,000-square-foot building and move all its social services functions from the present site at 621 Washington St.

The council previously agreed buying the building was a good idea but disagreed over whether to pay cash or borrow and make payments. The city already has about $106.7 million in bond debt and is very near its borrowing limit.

“We have the ability to pay cash for this building, get it behind us and move on. This is not what this city needs,” Councilman Kevin Wingard said, urging his fellow council members to vote against the plan. “We need to not bring any more debt when we have the money setting — where we can just write a check for this.”

Wingard cast the lone dissenting vote while Vice Mayor Bill Hartley expressed support for borrowing the money.

“I think it’s important for us to keep cash on hand because there are a lot of other things. For example, we don’t know what the total cost for DSS to move there is. The state will reimburse us for some of that. We’ve talked about potentially renovating the building they’re in, and we have no idea what the cost for that is or, if we don’t, the cost to demolish it,” Hartley said. “There are other expenses besides purchasing this building.”

Hartley said the council has dealt with a series of unbudgeted, unexpected expenditures this year so should use caution in spending.

Councilman Anthony Farnum said he originally favored paying for the building but changed his mind in the face of those unplanned expenses, including repairs at the baseball stadium and improvements for city elementary schools.

The council agreed it was a good idea to pay this loan off early, if possible, to save some interest costs.

In other matters, the council voted 3-1, with Wingard dissenting, to release Studio Brew owners Erich and Pam Allen from the final year of its 2015 performance agreement.

“This is really awesome because it gives us the opportunity to expand and grow and get into other markets we’ve already started branching into,” Erich Allen said. “This opens the opportunity with other potential investors who’ve come to us who want us to expand and grow into different markets.”

Besides craft beer, Studio Brew is making some hard seltzer products and nonalcoholic root beer and some cream soda products.

“I think it only makes sense for us to back off these type of agreements as much as we can, and it makes sense for you all, so you can hopefully diversify what you do,” Mayor Neal Osborne told the Allens.

In exchange for the release, the city is imposing a series of obligations on the owners. It requires the Allens to pay 20% of the assessed value of the building and 20% of the cash received — about $55,000 — if the title of the building changes, the Allens no longer own or control a majority of the business, or if Studio Brew moves outside the city or ceases operations by Nov. 20, 2020.

Last week, the BVU Authority board voted 4-0, with one member absent, to approve the request. The city’s Industrial Development Authority board followed suit on Monday, voting 5-1 to release Studio Brew.

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dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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