Billings begins rent negotiations with Island’s Split Rail Brewery

KAGAWONG—The opening of Split Rail Brewery took two more steps toward reality earlier this week.

At a Billings council meeting on Tuesday, council passed a motion to enter into negotiations with Split Rail representatives about the possibility of the business renting out space in the Billings Marina for the next two summers, on a pilot project basis.

“At our last (council) meeting it was reported that federal and provincial representatives and Split Rail met and looked at the potential for grants for the brewery,” Councillor Tom Imrie told council. However, he said further investigation has revealed there are no funding programs available immediately for this type of project, until Split Rail can prove it has a good track record in the industry.

[pullquote]“The government representative has recommended that we get together on a smaller scale project and show the business is commercially viable, then go back to them (government) for consideration of funding,” said Mr. Imrie. “I think we are both still interested in working to get them in the township.”[/pullquote]

He explained, “currently there is no one at the marina building as a tenant, and we looked at the building (with Andrea Smith and Eleanor Charlton of Split Rail) and they were quite enthused about renting it out.”

Mr. Imrie explained there is a mobile wall in the marina building that would have to be stabilized as part of the work that would need to be done to the marina, as well as a second access which can be drawn by taking out the window on the north part of the building and converting it into a door area.

“We decided to bring this to council and (Split Rail) is looking at all the licences required to open at the marina with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission (of Ontario),” said Mr. Imrie. “The goal is to have this building set up so they can be tenants for six months, pay rent, and sell their products in the marina building. They would be able to build up the required commercial track record that would then allow them to apply for grants.”

Further, Clerk Kathy McDonald said Split Rail Brewery has met its goal on a KickStarter crowdsourcing campaign, raising $20,000 (as of press deadline $21,707 had been raised).

“So obviously the community buy-in is there,” stated Mr. Imrie. “Anyone I’ve talked to thinks it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The rent would be on a pilot project basis, and then we would see what happens.”

“We would be offering something at the marina that no one else for hundreds of miles do, having beer available on the dock, made on the dock,” said Councillor Sandy Hurcomb. “This would be a huge draw for boaters and tourists. And this would be done on a temporary basis to give them a track record, and gives Kagawong a unique feature that no one else has.”

Mr. Imrie pointed out the scaled down brewery for the marina, a nano-brewery, would see the equipment Split Rail currently uses transferred to Billings.

“And the building would be workable for their needs,” said Ms. Hurcomb. “These two ladies are highly excited about this location.”

“What they need is a six-month pilot project to show that it is a viable commercial business,” said Mr. Imrie. “And they would be looking at renting out the space for a couple of seasons.”

Councillor Brian Parker pointed out “there are 47 microbreweries in Ontario that employ 650 people.”

“If and when the business becomes a full blown brewery, our estimates of creating 15 new jobs in Kagawong would not be far off,” said Mr. Imrie “I think this is a really good opportunity for them, and us, as there is no one else in the North Channel that has this type of business.”

Mr. Imrie said the plan would include two-thirds of the marina building being used for the nano-brewery and one third for marina sales and service.

Council passed a motion to have a committee of the whole, including the township clerk, negotiate with split Rail on a rental agreement for the Billings marina building.