Monday, May 24, 2004

Urp! A beer hall of fame?

Covington woos attraction

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Beer... and more

What The Beer Hall of Fame promises:

• A minibrewery or microbrewery where beer will be made.

• Several themed restaurants and pubs. For instance, one location will serve Irish beers and resemble a pub, while another might serve Red Stripe beer and have a Jamaican theme.

• A mini-convention center.

• A museum of beer memorabilia.

• Broadcast studios for Beer Radio and other shows.

• Music and entertainment venues.

• An education center offering classes on making beer at home and cooking with beer.

• More than 1,000 domestic and imported beers on tap.  

COVINGTON - This city wants to be the destination for the nation's beer drinkers.

City officials are trying to lure The Beer Hall of Fame.

It sounds like a frat-house creation. But a group of Maryland beer enthusiasts is serious about building a beer-themed tourist attraction somewhere in America.

And Covington officials say they're just as interested in the Beer Hall of Fame and its mugs of suds as they are Cincinnati's five-star French restaurant, the Maisonette, and its fine wines.

"Why not?" said Robin Cooper, the city's director of government affairs. "From what I understand, Covington and the entire Greater Cincinnati area has a great tradition of making, and drinking, beer. And we're always interested in something that would draw people and tourists to the city."

Joe Gardenghi, director of operations for the beer group's U.S. Beer Drinking Team and Beer Radio - a radio talk show about beer - said the organization wants to build a major tourist attraction based on the history, brewing and drinking of beer.

"This is not a joke," Gardenghi said. "The Beer Hall of Fame will be the ultimate travel and tourism destination for the 90 million beer drinkers in the United States and hundreds of millions more from around the world."

Details are still being worked out, but specifics of the project will be sent by the end of May to Covington and other interested cities, Gardenghi said.

Covington officials think they have a shot.

The city has a strong brewing tradition. It was once home to the Bavarian Brewery, which closed in the 1960s. Jillian's entertainment complex occupies the site.

And of course, there are plenty of neighborhood bars.

But creating an entire tourist attraction based on making beer, beer-themed restaurants and beer memorabilia can be risky, said David Heidrich.

Heidrich, a Villa Hills lawyer and developer, was one of the founders and owners of the now defunct Oldenburg Brewing Co. in Fort Mitchell.

Oldenburg was in a building now occupied by the Montgomery Inn barbecue restaurant and adjacent to the Drawbridge Hotel. It offered much of what is now being pitched in Covington, but went out of a business a few years ago.

"It's a tough business," said Heidrich.

In the mid-1990s The Party Source, the supermarket-sized liquor and gourmet food store in Bellevue, failed with a similar concept in the same building where Jillian's is now located.

"We might have been a little ahead of our time," Heidrich said.

When Oldenburg opened in the late 1980s, Northern Kentucky was not nearly the tourist destination it is today. Tourists could help make the Beer Hall of Fame concept a success, Heidrich said.

"It's a little far-fetched, but it might make it," he said. "There are plenty of examples of far-fetched ideas making it around here. Just go to Sparta (home of the Kentucky Speedway) and Newport," where the levee, the Hofbrauhaus and the Newport Aquarium have opened in the last few years.

"There were people who didn't give those places much of a chance, either."

And the Beer Hall of Fame organizers promise much more than a museum with a restaurant or pub.

Gardenghi said the estimated 100,000-square-foot attraction would include a brewery, beer-themed restaurants and pubs, music and lessons on beer-making. And, of course, lots of beer.

"We're looking for a prime location with a business and beer and family friendly environment," Gardenghi said. "Ask any passionate beer drinker and they'll tell you that if they saw a sign on the interstate that said 'Beer Hall of Fame Next Exit," they would pull over and stay the weekend."

That's the potential that Cooper and other Covington officials see in the project.

"It would be great for tourists, but it also sounds like it has enough going, sort of like the Hofbrauhaus in Newport, to keep the locals coming back as well," said Covington Mayor Butch Callery.

Gardenghi would not discuss how much the project will cost or how it will be financed, but did say he is "definitely" looking for tax incentives.

After the city gets more information, Cooper said, it would put together an incentive package.

"From what I know about the project it sounds like it would be eligible for the state's tourism tax credit," he said.

The credit allows owners of an attraction to receive a 25-cent rebate on every $1 of sales tax it generates for up to 10 years.

The tax credit is also part of the $5.4 million incentive package Covington has offered the Maisonette.

Several other cities also are interested in the beer attraction, including Los Angeles, Kansas City, Chicago, Sacramento and Boston. The Disney Co. is also in the hunt, Gardenghi said.

"If they go to one of those places, they'll be the small fish in the big pond," Cooper said. "Here, they'd be the man."


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