Friday, December 5, 2014

Alamo Beer Ribbon Cutting Marred by Political Tension

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 3:55 PM

click to enlarge A protester stands on the Hays Street Bridge during the Alamo City Beer ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, December 5. - KEVIN FEMMEL
  • Kevin Femmel
  • A protester stands on the Hays Street Bridge during the Alamo City Beer ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, December 5.

"Man, I need a beer," proclaimed mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal after Alamo Beer Company's ribbon cutting ceremony at their new brewery and taproom off Lamar street. He wasn't just thirsty for Alamo's signature golden ale, Villarreal probably wanted to relax after an unexpectedly tense ceremony after protesters semi-hijacked the event.

[Related: 14 Photos of the Protested Alamo Beer Ribbon Cutting]

The Hays Street Bridge overlooks the 18,000 square foot brewery, which is where protesters from the Eastside Historic Preservation Group stood, 12 in all, shouting over all of the festivities. Try as he might, Alamo Beer President Eugene Simor could not divert attention away from the group during his opening remarks.

In an attempt to not be intimidated Simor remarked that the protesters reminded him of the battle of the Alamo because it was the "few against the many", odd phrasing considering the "few" protesters would represent those that died fighting for the Alamo and Alamo Beer Company would be Santa Anna's army, overwhelming those who are defending what they believe to be their land.

Once Simor was done, Mayor Ivy Taylor stepped up to the microphone and didn't hold back. 

"I'm very angry at these protesters," she confessed with an exasperated tone. "Bringing jobs to this side of town is something we have worked on for years. I think this is a case study in how hard it is to re-develop areas."

Mayor Taylor wasn't just nervous about the tension in the air, she lightened the mood by saying she was fearful of having a beer on an empty stomach too. "I told Eugene I was going to have a beer, but I was nervous because I haven't eaten breakfast but he said I could have the first beer brewed here."

Taylor closed her speech by saying that she will continue to embrace a civil disagreement but that her end goal is a continued investment in San Antonio.

click to enlarge Mayoral candidate and former state representative Mike  Villarreal attempts to ease tensions as protests disrupt the Alamo Beer Company Brewery ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, December 5, 2015. - KEVIN FEMMEL
  • Kevin Femmel
  • Mayoral candidate and former state representative Mike Villarreal attempts to ease tensions as protests disrupt the Alamo Beer Company Brewery ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, December 5, 2015.

Just as the protesters were beginning to reach another level of fervor, Villarreal approached the podium for his speech. Like Taylor, he didn't shy away from controversy unfolding around him and handled the situation calmly and with care. 

Opening with an anecdote, Villarreal joked, "Politics is hard!"

"We obviously have more work to be done. When neighbors fight, going to court is the worst way to resolve it. The best way is to sit down and have a conversation. You can say a lot about elected officials, but one thing we're supposed to do is talk. Bring people together and move forward, not find a settlement and break our word. Without trust, democracy grinds to a halt."

Villarreal managed to silence both the crowd of Alamo Beer fans and the protesters, effectively reaching both sides. He would add that by 2020, craft beer breweries in San Antonio may add up to $1 billion to the city's economy.

State Senator Leticia Van De Putte was up next and didn't take the calm, direct route like Villarreal. She raised her voice throughout her entire speech to speak over the protesters chants of "private hands off public lands" and "shame", never once acknowledging them directly like the other speakers. The event concluded with a man dressed as Jim Bowie cutting the ribbon with, you guessed it, a bowie knife. 

Itza Carbajal, who has been with the Hays Street Restoration Project since 2012, says she was disappointed that Van De Putte opted to ignore their presence since she would personally like to support strong women in public office. 

"I wish she acknowledged our presence and didn't just speak louder," Carbajal said. "I know you have to save face but we are the people voting you in."  

Carbajal joined the group because she says she felt "betrayed" due to the city moving forward with Hays Street re-development plans after extensive discussions between her group after they fought the city in court over the property and won. The city eventually sold the property so that Alamo Beer could set up shop due to talks with the Hays Street Restoration group breaking down. The group claims they were never made aware of the decision and thought they were still working it out with the city when the news came out.

"You can't let the little things fall down because they eventually become big," Carbajal preaches. "For the last two years, Eugene Simor and Alamo have tried to make themselves the victim. This isn't about Alamo. It's about how they feel empowered as a big business to take what they want. They're not seeing the big picture."

To say that this was an unusually heated brewery opening would be an understatement. At one point on a tour of the brewery itself, Alamo Beer Company Brewmaster James Hudec remarked, "I hope they're shooting at the protesters," after a loud, unknown but likely metal related bang went off in the room. That probably sounds harsh and likely due to Hudec being stressed over Alamo's "big day" being over-shadowed by politics.

Out of all of this, Villarreal's advice about getting both sides together and discussing potential solutions. Ironically, Alamo Beer's beautiful breezeway, patio and spacious taproom would be a great venue for large, passionate debates. Alamo will even have three new beers to drink during said debate, debuting a new German Pale Ale, Pilsner and Amber Lager at the event. So at least when the Hays Street Restoration group and the city meet to discuss their differences, they'll have a wider selection of beer to enjoy. Then again, maybe mixing alcohol with political tension isn't the best idea. 

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