Tensions brew in Tampa over Cigar City's tasting room

Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner, left, and brewer Wayne Wambles sit in his warehouse off W Spruce Street in Tampa. Redner wants the wet zoning for his tasting room to be permanent.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner, left, and brewer Wayne Wambles sit in his warehouse off W Spruce Street in Tampa. Redner wants the wet zoning for his tasting room to be permanent.

TAMPA — Joey Redner was making plans for Cigar City Brewing years before it opened. He picked out the names of beers. He considered locations.

But he didn't expect problems with his neighbors. He thought they would be proud to have some of the world's highest-rated beer brewing down the street.

The brewery's quick success and national following allowed the business to grow from two employees to 22 in two years.

National and state awards line the walls inside the brewery's tasting room at a Spruce Street warehouse, behind a Home Depot.

But some residents of nearby Lincoln Gardens don't like having a bar so close to their homes. The brewery is licensed to manufacture beer, but has only temporary approval for the tasting room. That temporary approval is set to expire and Redner wants the Tampa City Council to make the wet zoning permanent.

Earlier this month, the council tied 3-3 on the request. Another vote is scheduled for Dec. 2, when council member Charlie Miranda, who missed the last vote, is present.

Without the council's approval, Redner said, he will be forced to fire all nine tasting room employees. After the council's tie vote, Redner posted a plea on the brewery's website.

The result: several hundred e-mails and phone calls to Miranda's office from all over the country in support of the brewery.

Miranda said he's never seen anything like it.

Although Miranda voted for the brewery's temporary wet zoning, he's noncommittal on making it permanent. He won't say how he will vote, but said he wants to protect the neighborhood and is always concerned about another business serving alcohol.

Lincoln Gardens, which shares a neighborhood association with nearby Carver City, was created for the families of black Korean War and World War II veterans who were turned away from another neighborhood for white veterans.

They are close to the busy commercial strip of N Dale Mabry Highway, including bars, restaurants, Home Depot, Target and Whole Foods.

Neighborhood leaders say the tasting room has brought crime, but police said they have had few calls there. Residents also complain of increased traffic, said Maurice Harvey, president of the Lincoln Gardens-Carver City Neighborhood Association.

Redner's brewery is in a building owned by his father, Joe Redner, who helped finance it. But he's best known as the owner of the Mons Venus strip club.

The senior Redner lost a challenge to council member Gwen Miller in 2007. Miller voted against the wet zoning. The council's other two black members also voted against it.

The neighborhood fought the wet zoning from the start and took the council to court, but lost that, too.

Harvey is upset that the council waived the prohibition of a wet zoning within 1,000 feet of a residential area. The closest house to the brewery is 97 feet.

Residents are tired of repeating themselves to the council, Harvey said. The neighborhood did not send a representative to the last meeting, but sent a letter objecting to the tasting room.

Harvey said he blames the council for being too permissive, not the brewery. "The brewery is doing what they're supposed to do. They're a business," he said.

Still, Cigar City's success worries Harvey.

For now, the brewery's tasting room holds up to 50 people and on a good night draws about 30 customers, Redner said, mostly fans of craft beers.

Redner said his clients are serious beer geeks who don't create the rowdiness neighbors expect at a bar. His brewery is producing about 5,000 barrels a year.

To Harvey, it's not about the type of beer: "High-class beer, low-class beer. Beer is beer."

Harvey said the neighborhood will go to court again if the council makes the wet zoning permanent.

Zena Marshall, who moved to Lincoln Gardens two months ago with her 11-year-old daughter, Kiara, said traffic into Cigar City sometimes blocks her way out. She hadn't realized there was a brewery there, but the thought of a bar so close to her home worries her.

"How many drinks, how many tastings you going to have?" Marshall asked. "They can zoom out of there and plunge into someone."

Lazaro Luris' house on Spruce Street faces the brewery and he said there isn't much traffic. He likes that the brewery is so well-lit he doesn't have to turn the lights on outside his house.

"People that go in and out of there are calm," Luris said. "I haven't heard complaints from neighbors, and there are no complaints from me."

Cigar City Brewing would go on brewing without its tasting room, Redner said. If the council votes no, Redner said, he will find another location for the tasting room. But he would have to open another brewery or work with other brewery owners because he can't have a standalone tasting room. He would look outside Tampa if he has to.

Home brewer Vance Barnes included a stop at the brewery during a trip from Atlanta, along with a visit to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. On the bar sat three 32-ounce bottles he planned to take home with him.

"Especially being in Florida, brewing good beer is an uphill challenge," Barnes, 54, said. "Everyone likes Coors, Miller, Bud."

On the other side of the beers on tap sat Chris Keller and Stephen Kulakoski, two friends from Daytona Beach. They drove two hours the previous night to see a concert. An afternoon at the brewery was a must.

"It's an attraction to this area, and it's a hidden treasure," Keller, 45, said. "This isn't a sports bar. This isn't a nightclub. This is for adults. This is a place to sample well-, fine-crafted brews."

Ileana Morales can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or imorales@sptimes.com.

Tensions brew in Tampa over Cigar City's tasting room 11/21/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 22, 2010 4:34pm]

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