Noise complaints lead ‘frustrated’ craft brewery owner to vow relocation

Noise complaints lead ‘frustrated’ craft brewery owner to vow relocation
Intuition Ale Works owner Ben Davis and his dog, Sunday, take a walk through the craft brewery’s production area

Intuition Ale Works owner Ben Davis and his dog, Sunday, take a walk through the craft brewery’s production area

After months of dealing with police visits and discussions with city officials about noise complaints that he says were lodged unfairly, Intuition Ale Works owner Ben Davis has shut down parts of his operation and plans to relocate his craft brewery on King Street.
Though his lease doesn’t expire for another three years, Davis says he won’t exercise a three-year renewal clause because he has grown weary of scores of noise complaints called in by a neighbor.

He also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of moving before his lease expires.
“We are moving,” Davis said. “It’s just a question of when and where.”

Records provided by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office indicate that deputies responded to no less than 66 noise complaints between May of 2011 and July 13, 2013. Though police couldn’t contact the complainant to verify many of the calls, Davis says he believes that virtually all of them were made by the same person.
The majority of the calls were made between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., when crowds gathered for “open-air” fundraisers and other special events held on Intuition property, situated in an area that had been deteriorating to a point where Davis felt the need to hire a full-time security guard.

“We close at 11 o’clock [at night],” Davis said, shaking his head. “There was only one complainant. He yelled at my delivery drivers, customers and my staff. He’s a nightmare.”
A recent post on Intuition Ale Work’s Facebook page says it all.

“After recently receiving a substantial fine for a noise violation and dealing with the stress of frequent visits by JSO, code enforcement and the Environmental Quality Division, all due to complaints made by our residential neighbor, we have made the extremely painful decision to permanently close the brewery area,” the post reads.
“The frustration is that sales are affected because we can’t do special events anymore,” Davis said.

Those special events included Oktoberfest, Intuition’s anniversaries and fundraisers in which the brewery donated more than $60,000 in beer and merchandise to nearly 100 local charities – in addition to $20,000 in cash.

“We look at ourselves as being an asset to the neighborhood,” Davis said. “I’m losing sleep at night wondering where we’re going to relocate.”
Though he would prefer to stay, relocation isn’t a new concept for the 39-year-old entrepreneur. Earlier this year, he was engaged in talks with the city to either relocate or expand to the Shipyards, situated on vacant, city-owned property on Jacksonville’s Northbank. He also has considered other possibilities, including vacant sites in La Villa and Brooklyn, adjacent to Riverside Avenue just west of Downtown; and a parcel in the Mixon Town area.

But nothing has materialized, and Davis says the lack of movement has been equally frustrating.
“It’s been a ‘no, no, no’ kind of interaction with the city,” Davis said.
“They don’t think outside the box. They aren’t advocates for business.”

Davis says that he still has three years to figure out what to do, even though his 3-year-old brewery is rapidly outgrowing its 16,000-square-foot home, where 17 employees have increased production from 1,200 barrels in the brewery’s first year to an estimated 6,000 barrels in 2013.
The beer, mostly ales, gets distributed to six Northeast Florida counties.
“The next step is to become a regional brewery,” Davis said. “We’d be looking at 25,000 barrels a year.”

He also said he doesn’t want to continue butting heads over rezoning issues with members of Riverside Avondale Preservation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the area’s historic integrity.

“There are a lot of challenges with being in a historical district,” Davis said. “We’re kind of an afterthought.”
Wayne Wood, one of the founders of RAP, said he wishes Davis the best with his decision to move, and that he hopes Davis can find a spot where he can balance his beer manufacturing interests with retail sales.

“Ben is a very innovative, caring and nurturing kind of a guy, and I’m hoping he finds that balance,” Wood said. “I don’t have a solution, but my sympathies go out to him” concerning the noise complaints.

Jared Rush, an Intuition customer with a background in sales and marketing, said he was “shocked” when he heard that Davis planned to relocate.

“It changed that whole area when he opened up,” Rush said. “It became one of the hot spots. Now I’m frustrated. We need venues like that.”
Rush said he wishes that Davis and the neighbor who complained could have reached “some kind of compromise” in a subsequent hearing with the city, but echoed the sentiments of many patrons who responded to Intuition’s Facebook post.

“It’s not about the noise complaints, it’s about the reality of the bigger picture,” he said. “It becomes political when you outweigh the greater good of what Ben created. To be shut down because people don’t like the noise, we’re not going to become a great city.”

Intuition Ale Works owner Ben Davis (right) discusses quality control with Andrew Cattell, the craft brewery’s production manager

Intuition Ale Works owner Ben Davis (right) discusses quality control with Andrew Cattell, the craft brewery’s production manager

Rush said he has no doubts that Davis will land on his feet – wherever he decides to relocate. “Ben is a gentle giant, but he’s a fighter,” he said.
Davis says he needs to keep reminding himself that it’s time to forget the past and stay focused on the future.

Still, he says, it’s unsettling to think that the north end of King Street likely will go back to being what it was before he opened his brewery.
“Dark and empty,” he said.

By Stephen Kindland
Resident Community News

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