The consultant hired to gauge interest in the conceptual High Plains Winery Estates told the BIDCorp board of directors Monday that reactions to the project have been mixed in his first attempts at presenting the plan to industry leaders.
Gene Richards, an Austin-based consultant with considerable experience promoting the Texas wine industry, was hired in November to conduct a three-month feasibility study for the potential of the re-imagining of the Brownfield Industrial Park, which has sat mostly vacant for almost two decades.
In his first report back to the board, Richards said he has had some interesting conversations with some of the industry’s most well-known people. “Most of them think it’s a really great project,” he said via Skype conference. “The drawback they all mention is the lack of tourism in Brownfield, but we’re working on it.”
He said most of the people he approached about the project had at least heard about it and they posed questions he did not have answers to. They want to know what role BIDCorp will play in the construction and operation of the project and what kind of infrastructure is in place or will be completed.
None of those details have been solidified and the board discussed a meeting to set some of those, but decided it’s still too early. Board chairman Alan Bayer said he’d like to give Richards more time to do what he set out to do — gauge interest in the idea — before investing time and resources in finer details of the park.
“If we can’t find anybody interested in building, we don’t need to pursue it, but we need to let him keep looking and keep contacting people,” he said. “We want to do this to help Brownfield grow any way we can, so I’m sure if we see a need, we would provide incentives to move the project forward, but it’s too early to be specific about it.”
Board member Judy Besler asked the fundamental question, “which comes first, tourists or the destination?” “It’s the chicken or the egg,” she said. “We don’t have tourism, but would we if there was a reason to stop here?”
Richards said many of the people he talked to grew more excited the longer they visited and they see value in the idea. “Without question, this is a long-term project that will take some bravery to start,” he said. “I would be scared too, but it’s a killer concept. People say, we’re not Fredericksburg. Well, there was a time when Fredericksburg wasn’t Fredericksburg either. Someone put in a winery and it blossomed from there, but that wasn’t overnight either.”
Richards also said that the grape growers in the area are a fantastic asset. “Three months out of the year, Brownfield is the wine mecca of Texas,” he said. “All of the winery folks come up here to check on the crops and make deals. That’s huge.”
In the end, the board instructed Richards to continue his interview and requested that he meet with a group of High Plains grape growers about the idea.
Richards told the board that Texas Custom Wine Works, located on the southwestern corner of the property is a “perfect scenario” for the success of the project.