Bristol, Virginia Gives Corporate Welfare to Restaurant, Loses Two More
by Lewis Loflin
In 2011 the Bristol Virginia City government has again agreed to pay $150,000 in corporate welfare for a restaurant. Known as the Mellow Mushroom, it seems somebody has been smoking some mushrooms. The City fought again with Washington County to see which idiot could shower this new eatery with the most taxpayer cash.
At the same time everybody was celebrating, Bristol Virginia lost two more restaurants for an overall loss of jobs again. One was Piccadilly at the Bristol Mall and Ryans on Euclid Avenue.
The problem in these backroom partnerships in the past has been a bad deal for residents. In one case the City lost over $2 million in one deal, while in this case this taxpayer subsidized eatery will directly compete with legitimate private sector restaurants already hurting for business. So here is a trip down memory lane.
Exit 7 between Bristol, Virginia and Washington County, Virginia has been a focal point for lawsuits and finger pointing. To quote the Bristol Herald Courier on January 12, 2005
A good investment? Bristol Virginia invested $2.5 million in a 23-acre speculative real estate deal in the Exit 7 area off Interstate 81. It coughed up $175,000 to lure a Red Lobster to the same area. The city's public utility anted up another $50,000 on the same deal. So far, there's nothing to show for it, and all that city leaders can do is urge us to wait patiently. Meanwhile, plenty of people are asking if the city will see a return on its investment. Good question.
Update July 2006: Another $5 million tax dollars for a strip mall. In an unbelievable turn of events, the out going city council approved another massive corporate welfare package. This development at Bristol Exit 5 will compete directly with the stalled $2.5 million Exit 7 scam. As of July 2006 they claim to have a Cracker Barrel coming in, but three years and $2.5 million has produced nothing. This must be some of what former Mayor Weberling calls "voodoo bookkeeping."
I attended the hearings on the $2.5 million land deal and spoke to city officials on this issue. I asked directly for information on this project and was refused. In 2005 I finally got the material under the freedom of information act while controversy rages over the lack of progress at the site.
To quote the Bristol Herald Courier, Only one resident spoke at the hearing. "It's not the function of government to engage in private business ventures," Lewis Loflin told the council. "I'd like to see full disclosure of all financial information surrounding this business decision."
Much of the council's talks about the impending purchase were held in closed session under Virginia law allowing such private discussion of prospective new businesses. Loflin questioned what he called "replacing a $15-an-hour job with a $6-an-hour job" with the project's focus on retail and restaurant development.
See Council unanimously approves money for Nicewonder property.
Today (January 20, 2005) I talked to Mr. Brown of Bristol, Virginia economic development. Besides sounding really annoyed, he stated that Tim Carter was supposed to pay for all infrastructure at the Nicewonder Property the city purchased ($2.5 million) for him. As of yet, there's not even a paved road though the city bought it in December 2003.
When I asked why we are using $175,000 in economic development funds for a private seafood restaurant, he claimed it's a good investment for Bristol. "People will come for miles" and the meals tax will keep the city form raising property taxes. When I asked why the city owned utility waved a $12,000 water tap fee and gave Carter $50,000, he said so they could buy a power transformer, etc. When I asked did the utility do this for other businesses, he said, "no." To quote Mr. Brown (Herald Courier Oct 30, 2003) "The jobs we're creating aren't as high-paying, but they're jobs."
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