Downtown Edmond brewery
The Edmond City Council approved a 25-year lease with Lap 7 Development to bring Prairie Artisan Ales to Festival Market Place on May 22, 2023. (Screenshot)

Efforts to add year-round commerce in downtown Edmond’s Festival Market Place have stalled as construction costs for a planned brewery have soared. Meanwhile, the delay has renewed concerns from downtown business owners regarding the city’s request for qualifications process for the project.

On May 22, the Edmond City Council approved a 25-year lease for Lap 7 Development to build a 4,200-square-foot taproom and brewery for Prairie Artisan Ales on the site of a storage building in Festival Market Place, which hosts the outdoor Edmond Farmer’s Market from April through October. After the first 25-year term, there are five separate five-year options that can be exercised through mutual agreement — totaling 50 years. Under the agreement, Lap 7 Development would construct the building and own the property until the lease is up. At that point, it would become the city’s property.

But because Lap 7 Development did not commence construction by the contracted Jan. 1 deadline, the city sent a notice of default on the project, and the parties are attempting to negotiate a solution.

“Downtown Edmond is great. It’s probably the hottest area in the metro, and so I want to see it work,” said Brandon Lodge, owner of Lap 7 Development and an Edmond native. “But I’ve been honest with my architects, contractor, Prairie and then the City of Edmond. I can’t do a project that doesn’t make money.”

Lap 7 lease

Under terms of the city’s lease, Lap 7 Development would pay Edmond $12,750 in annual rent for the first five years, with payment starting in November 2024. The rent amount would increase by 10 percent each subsequent five-year period.

A clause in the ground lease allows for Edmond city manager Scot Rigby to extend the construction start date up to 90 days. However, that clause has not been exercised, he said Tuesday.

Rigby said the Edmond City Council has the option to terminate the project or enact an “option to perform.”

“Basically, we can continue to work with the person to see if they can complete the work. If not, we could actually hire somebody else we want to do the work. I don’t think we’re interested in that, but we have that option,” Rigby said. “That’s what we’re currently working through is, do they have the ability to move forward with the project? And if so, what would the new conditions be for that?

Rigby said the choice will be clear for the Edmond City Council.

“Either we terminate, then Council can figure out what do we want to do: Offer it back out (to RFQ) or not?” Rigby said. “Or do we want to continue to explore, and that’s what we’re working with [Lap 7 Development] about — how to allow the project to move forward.”

Lodge said the only way he sees the project coming to fruition is if he can add a second story and a tenant on the project.

“I’ve got someone who’s willing to come in and take the second floor, and the project will work,” Lodge said. “And so now — and that’s where the conversations have been with the City of Edmond — are they willing to give me the time I need to add a second floor to the design?” Lodge said. “They seem to be on board with it. We’ll just we have to wait and see.”

If built, Lodge said the Prairie Artisan Ales brewery would add to downtown Edmond’s “ale trail” alongside Frenzy Brewing Co., The Patriarch and American Solera at the Icehouse Project, another Lodge development.

“It contributes to and continues the momentum that Edmond has been experiencing for the last four, five, six years,” Lodge said. “I think that adding a really solid, local, but nationally known brewery, like Prairie, just enhances what’s already going on.”

Currently, Prairie Artisan Ales operates a taproom at 3 N.E. 8th St. in Oklahoma City.

“We are looking forward to coming to Edmond,” Zach Prichard, owner and operator of Prairie Artisan Ales said in a statement Tuesday.

Rigby said all parties will find out if the project is feasible “in a very short time.”

Black: ‘This was a backdoor deal’

A rendering shows the interior of Prairie Artisan Ales brewery and taproom planned for Festival Market Place in downtown Edmond. (Screenshot)

Robert Black, vice president of the Downtown Edmond Business Association and an owner of Cafe Evoke, Twisted Tree Baking Company and two other businesses, said he is worried that both construction delays and the brewery itself could congest the Festival Market Place.

He is also concerned by indications that the city had Lodge’s idea in mind when opening the request for qualifications — a tool used to gather information on interested contractors for a specific proposal — from Nov. 1, 2022, to Dec. 15, 2022.

“I just feel like it kind of got swept under the rug,” Black said. “This was a backdoor deal that was put together, and then they presented it through the lens of an RFQ.”

Black called the city’s request for qualifications process “dishonest.”

“This was handpicked, hand-tailored, and designed for this specific use, for this specific developer, for this specific brewery from the get-go,” Black said. “It’s always kind of bothered me because that’s just dishonest. Maybe it’s not illegal, but it doesn’t give me faith and trust in our city’s system.”

Overall, Black said the city “does a great job” working with downtown business owners.

“I like Brandon, I like the project, I like the brewery. But the way that it was done felt disingenuous,” Black said. “There’s a lot of things that the city does really good (…) but this could have been done better.”

Public records seem to support Black’s assertion that city leaders issued the RFQ with Lodge’s idea in mind.

During the Sept. 12, 2022, Edmond City Council meeting, Andy Conyers, assistant city manager of administration, noted that a developer had come to the city with an idea for Festival Market Place.

“In the spirit of full disclosure, we have been approached by a developer that is interested in doing a concept,” Conyers said. “That’s not how we do business at the City of Edmond. We give an opportunity to anybody that has the opportunity to develop this.”

Following Open Records Act requests, NonDoc received emails that indicate Rigby, Conyers, Janet Yowell — the executive director of the Edmond Economic Development Authority — and Randy Entz — an assistant city manager who then served as the city’s director of planning and zoning — met with Lodge about his idea nearly six months before the request for qualifications opened.

A May 18, 2022, email from Yowell to Conyers and Rigby, detailed Lodge’s initial concept:

Brandon Lodge, the developer of the Ice House is continuing to ask me about the potential to locate Prairie Brewing in Festival Marketplace. He would like to either purchase or ground lease the pavilion. His plan would be to enclose the existing pavilion with glass, steel and wood and expand it, not taking any existing parking spaces.

Is this something we would want to have further discussions on?

— Janet Yowell,
Edmond Economic Development Authority executive director.

Conyers sent an email two days later to Steve Commons, a former assistant city manager who now works as a part-time consultant, discussing Lodge’s new concept to build the brewery on the space that is occupied by the city storage building, where the eventual request for qualifications was issued.

Conyers wrote that Lodge preferred the idea of buying the property, but city officials called that a non-starter:

Brandon Lodge reached out to Janet again with a different twist on his original idea of a brewery underneath the Festival Marketplace pavilion. His new idea is to have the brewery in the space that is currently occupied by our storage building (picture attached) with a total footprint of around 5,000 sq/ft.

Janet, Scot, Randy and I met him onsite today so he could explain the vision. He would rather buy the land from us as that makes it easier to borrow money, but we told him that’s a no-go with us and we’d rather sign a long-term lease. He was open to that idea and said if that’s what it takes to make the deal work then he said he will figure it out. We told him we can’t just pick him/Prairie and would have to have a public process to pick a partner (RFQ most likely).

Next step is he’s going to get with his architect and provide us with a pretty picture to help all parties better understand the possibilities.

— Andy Conyers, assistant city manager of administration.

Black said Lodge’s May 2022 meeting with city officials gave his team an advantage in developing a robust proposal for the RFQ.

“He had architectural drawings, he had engineering plans, he had a business model, because he’s been working on it for six months,” Black said. “How is anybody going to have a shot at this that didn’t have six months to put a plan together?”

Both Conyers and Yowell served on the selection committee for the RFQ. Stephanie Carel, executive director of the Downtown Edmond Business Association, Jared Prince, the city’s recreation program manager, and Jason Duncan, chairman of the Central Edmond Urban District Board, also served on the committee.

While the city’s Parks and Recreation Board provides oversight of the Edmond Farmer’s Market, city staff did not bring the item before that board until August — three months after the Edmond City Council had approved the lease. Prior to receiving approval from the Edmond City Council, the concept was brought to the Central Edmond Urban District Board in February.

Asked why the Parks and Recreation Board was not presented the brewery concept prior to Edmond City Council approval, Bill Begley, the city’s marketing and public relations manager, said the Parks and Recreation Board does not control the Festival Market Place property.

“The Festival Marketplace area was acquired by the city in 2002 utilizing Central Edmond Business Improvement funds to construct parking, lighting, landscaping and an open pavilion,” Begley said in a statement. “The area over time has provided public parking, both covered and uncovered, for area businesses and the general public, served as a staging area for events like Libertyfest, and as the base location for the city’s Citylink bus service.”

If built, the brewery would not affect existing parking or art in Festival Market Place, Begley said.

He noted that the Central Edmond Urban District Board “provides oversight of downtown planning and development.” After a selection committee including city staff reviewed the two RFQ submissions and recommended Lodge’s brewery and taproom proposal, the CEUD Board heard Lodge’s presentation in February 2023. The City Council approved the project in May.

Yowell: ‘There was no pre-selection’

The ground lease approved by the Edmond City Council in May 2023 stipulates that the Prairie Artisan Ales brewery and taproom would be constructed on the site of a city-owned storage building at Festival Market Place in downtown Edmond. (Joe Tomlinson)

Yowell, the director of the Edmond Economic Development Authority, said the Lap 7 concept went through “quite a process.”

“There was no pre-selection,” Yowell said. “I will forever stand by that. Nothing was predetermined.”

Asked if she believed Lodge’s idea influenced the city’s decision to open the parcel for RFQ, Yowell said she did.

“That’s a typical thing,” Yowell said. “So we absolutely can’t just say, ‘Yes,’ to that person. We may think that particular thing is a good idea, but you’ve got to open it up for a whole process to happen.”

Rigby said RFQ’s involving city property are often kickstarted by developers who approach city officials with ideas.

“Once somebody expresses interest, whether it’s a neighbor, or property owner, or developer that says, ‘I’m interested in that property,’ then that often triggers a process like an RFQ,” Rigby said. “Do they have more awareness on the property? Yes, but they’re the ones that initially raised the interest, and then that kicks off a formal process.”

Aside from Lap 7 Development, only one other party responded to the request for qualifications: Spearman Investments, led by former professional boxer Sean O’Grady and Bob Weiss, owner of Around the Corner and Othello’s.

Asked if city officials met with Weiss and O’Grady prior to opening the RFQ, Yowell said she did not.

“Not prior, no,” Yowell said. “I had a phone conversation with [Weiss].”

Yowell said officials met with Lodge because he “came in with an idea.”

“People call me all the time with ideas,” Yowell said. “One of the reasons why we’re semi-separate from the city is that sometimes people feel like they can come to us, and if they request to have it private, especially financials, then we can keep that a little bit more under wraps.”

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Weiss: ‘They had something in their mind that they wanted’

The RFQ submission from Weiss and O’Grady proposed general concepts for the site of the Festival Market Place storage building, but it did not specify a single idea, Weiss said. He proposed reopening The Zu, a former sports bar owned by the Weiss family at 16 S. Broadway, where The Mule operates now. He and O’Grady also proposed a training ring for boxers, among other ideas.

Weiss said he understood why the city selected Lodge’s proposal, since a municipality would want the property to generate sales tax dollars.

“Their perception is correct,” Weiss aid. “That is a very valuable piece of real estate that can be an income-producer for the city.”

However, Weiss said the RFQ process felt “rushed.”

“I did have the feeling they already knew what they were doing and were just going through some motions, but I don’t know that,” Weiss said. “I’ve been in RFQ’s before. This just kind of felt different.”

Weiss said the process seemed atypical for the city.

“For the most part, what I’ve seen from the City of Edmond is above water, straightforward. They do their due diligence,” Weiss said. “They had something in their mind that they wanted.”

Asked if she believed the city had pre-selected Lap 7 Development for the site, Carel — the Downtown Edmond Business Association president who served on the selection committee — said the committee went through the proper process, but she acknowledged hearing complaints from business owners about the situation.

“I’ve gotten the same input from everybody down here. They were like, ‘Do you think it was pre-selected?’ I just don’t know either way,” Carel said. “I know when I was part of it, it seemed like we were actually going through the interview process and the steps that were taken. I just don’t know what was done before I got there.”

(Correction: This article was updated at 8:13 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23, to correct information on the city’s lease agreement with Lap 7 Development. NonDoc regrets the error.)