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Village board affirms intent to loan CDC funds
In Soldiers Grove
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With the Soldiers Grove Community Development Corporation board no longer functioning due to resignations and a lack of quorum at their last meeting, a decision on loaning money from the organization’s revolving loan fund has fallen to the Soldiers Grove Village Board.

At a special meeting held on Thursday, Dec. 12, the Soldiers Grove Village Board discussed a request from the Driftless Brewing Company for a $30,000 CDC loan to help them purchase the former grocery store building. The village board took over administering the CDC’s revolving loan fund after the resignation of the organization’s president and another member, coupled with a lack of quorum at the most recent CDC board meeting, made action by the organization impossible. In such a situation the village board is empowered by the CDC bylaws to act in the place of the CDC in administering the funds.

After some discussion of the microbrewery’s request, the village board voted to approve the loan and directed village clerk Tammy Kepler to have the village’s attorney write a letter of intent to provide the loan to the brewers.

Driftless Brewery Company partners Christopher Balistreri and Michael Varnes-Epstein recently had their offer to purchase the former grocery store in Soldiers Grove accepted and are currently putting their financing package together for an approaching January closing date. The partners plan to relocate their brewery from rural Excelsior and significantly expand production at the Soldiers Grove facility.

However, questions about the CDC bylaws kept the board from acting on more than the letter of intent. No- one appeared to know for certain what restrictions for use of funds exist in the CDC bylaws. One major question involved the amount of money the bylaws allowed the CDC to loan, without the village board amending the CDC’s directives.

Soldiers Grove Village President Laurel Hestetune thought that a limit of $25,000 might exist. Meanwhile, CDC board member Marvin Hansen was certain that the loan could not be used as “start-up money.” But without a copy of the CDC bylaws, clarification had to be delayed.

“Can we word the loan to reflect that it is for equipment, for operating costs, and not start-up costs?” queried village trustee Shayne Chapman after Hestetune referred to the loan as start-up money. At that point, Varnes-Epstein clarified that the use of loaned money would be for operational expenses, such as equipment and labor.

Hestetune took responsibility for going through the bylaws to clarify the remaining questions.

Varnes-Epstein and Balestreri hope to have the expanded brewery open by late spring or early summer. Their plans include a 15-barrel production brewery with a taproom for serving their beers and a limited selection of guest taps to customers onsite.

“Our plans are to brew once a week initially,” Varnes-Epstein explained. “We have been discussing possibly remodeling in stages in order to allow us to be able to open to the public sooner than later.”

Varnes-Epstein stressed that the Westby Credit Union has already approved loaning them the money for the purchase of the building, so what remains are the final legal hoops before they close on the property. Once they close on the property, they will order the new brewing equipment and then begin remodeling in the interval before it arrives.

When they begin brewing, the duo plans to produce approximately 472 gallons per week. They have built additional capacity into their plans so that if demand requires it, they can brew and then hold the beer in bright tanks and conditioning tanks for two weeks to several months before bottling, effectively allowing them to quadruple production.

Beer produced by the Driftless Brewing Company is currently available at the Old Oak Inn in Soldiers Grove, the Kickapoo Exchange Food Co-op in Gays Mills, and the Viroqua Food Co-op.