Nova Scotia

How Stillwell ultimately won by losing bid for waterfront beer garden

Stillwell was one of five companies that bid on a Halifax waterfront space in 2015 to operate a beer garden. After a three-year fight, CBC News obtained copies of the bids and the scoring evaluations for them, which shows why the Stubborn Goat Gastropub won the tender.

'When we lost the bid for the space, we were disappointed for sure, but not necessarily surprised'

Chris Reynolds is the co-owner of Stillwell, a bar, brewery and beer garden in Halifax. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

When Stillwell co-owner Chris Reynolds found out his business didn't win the tender to continue operating a Halifax waterfront beer garden in 2016, he wasn't happy.

But, as time passed, he came to realize it was a good thing.

Stillwell was one of five companies to enter bids for a three-year contract to operate a beer garden on the waterfront for about six months each year.

The others were the Murphy Hospitality Group, Great Earth Expeditions, the Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants and the Stubborn Goat Gastropub, which won the tender.

The reasons why the Stubborn Goat won the original tender have not been disclosed until now. The Waterfront Development Corporation redacted most of the information in response to a 2016 freedom of information request by CBC News.

For the 2015 season, Stillwell operated a waterfront beer garden, renting space from what was then known as the Waterfront Development Corporation. The venture was a one-year pilot project and would be opened to tender beginning a year later.

"We knew what we were signing up for that it could only be a year and when we lost the bid for the space, we were disappointed for sure, but not necessarily surprised," said Reynolds. "We totally accepted the results, for sure and we just got busy looking for a new space."

While a space at the corner of North Park and Cornwallis streets in north-end Halifax was considered, a location on Spring Garden Road was ultimately chosen.

Reynolds said he prefers the current space for the Stillwell beer garden, both as a patron and as a business owner.

This image is of the Stillwell beer garden when it operated on the Halifax waterfront. (Stillwell/Twitter)

"The weather is a big one," he said. "We used to close at 9 p.m. all the time because it was just getting cold and those same sort of nights we're open until maybe midnight up here."

Reynolds said where Stillwell now works with a private landlord, it's easier to make changes to the site.

Besides the beer garden, Stillwell brews beer at another location in the city, has a bar on Barrington Street and recently announced it would be opening a pub in the space that formerly housed the Lion & Bright on Agricola Street.

Who bid on the next beer garden tender?

The location for the waterfront beer garden is up for tender again. The competition closed Dec. 19, 2018, to rent the space for another three years.

Reynolds said Stillwell didn't submit a bid.

Asked for the names of companies who filed bids on this tender, Develop Nova Scotia, previously the Waterfront Development Corporation, would not reveal that information.

Spokesperson Deborah Page said evaluation of the bids is nearly complete and the results will be posted to Nova Scotia's procurement site.

Privacy commissioner chides public body

Late last year, Catherine Tully, the provincial privacy commissioner, issued a report calling for the Waterfront Development Corporation to release the results of the previous tender.

"Neither the third parties nor the public body provided any evidence or submissions in support of their positions that information should be withheld," Tully wrote.

The scoring for the tender was broken down into four components, with 70 per cent accounting for the proposed use of the space, financial capacity and expertise, and experience of the operator, with the remaining 30 per cent being devoted to the rent proposal.

The now largely unredacted document shows that while Chef Inspired (56.7), Murphy Hospitality (57.2), Stillwell (59.6) and Stubborn Goat (58.9) had similar scores on the first three components, the Stubborn Goat's rent proposal is what won them the tender as they scored a perfect 30 points.

What the bidders offered for rent

Stubborn Goat proposed paying $10,000 for monthly rent, as well as 3.5 per cent of net revenue. Based on the company's projection of about $1.75 million in sales for the first year, the total rent payment was expected to be $121,278.

Murphy Hospitality anticipated $400,000 of sales in the first year, and said it would pay a base rent of $45,000 per year or a percentage-based system. Whichever option yielded the greater payment would be the one the Waterfront Development Corporation ended up with.

Chef Inspired, which is the company that operates restaurants such as Cheese Curds and Habaneros, proposed paying $2,500 monthly for rent, plus five per cent of sales up to $500,000 and six per cent above that.

'They threw a lot of money at it'

Stillwelll proposed an $8,000 monthly rent and a "reasonable percentage of sales." Reynolds said that percentage would have been worked out between the Waterfront Development Corporation and the company.

Stillwell's proposal also offered an "end of season rent adjustment" guarantee that the total paid for the season would be no less than 8.5 per cent of sales.

"I know that they [Stubborn Goat] threw a lot of money at it and a lot of bells and whistles," said Reynolds. "You know, they talked a lot about wild events and this and that, and all kinds of stuff they were going to do there."

Had it been successful, Stillwell planned to operate the site much like it had during the pilot year, but would have spent money on making improvements to the site.

In its proposal, the Stubborn Goat said it planned to offer live music at the site, as well as screen movies, and have washer toss and horseshoes available.

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