More than 125 people filed into the Augusta Harmonie Verein Monday evening to hear from David and Jerri Hoffmann, Washington natives and real-estate developers who recently announced plans to create a 700-acre winery and vineyard destination in Augusta, their faces appearing via a Zoom call and a large projector.
The people in the room, including both Augusta city dwellers and those living along Highway 94 outside city limits, wanted to know how the plan would impact the farms, roads and businesses where they live and work. The most frequent concern from residents, according to Chamber of Commerce President JoAnn Milster, is that they don’t want to see the historic German, small-town character of the town change.
The Hoffmanns responded that the historic charm is the reason they are interested in Augusta, and that in their previous historic downtown restoration projects — Naples, Florida; Avon, Colorado; and Winnetka, Illinois — they have renovated more than 100 buildings and never torn one down.
“We’re restorers,” he said. “We restore beauty.”
To date, the Hoffmanns have purchased the Balducci Winery and Vineyards, the Knoernschild Vineyards, the old Augusta Wine Company building on Walnut Street, the old country feed store and a vacant property on Locust Street. Hoffmann said Monday he had also purchased the Emporium antique store and is in talks with multiple other properties. He said he anticipates being finished acquiring properties in April.
Hoffmann added later that he would not build any additional wineries but would renovate and improve the ones he purchases.
The second major concern from many in town, according to Milster during the meeting, is that the town’s existing infrastructure, such as sewers, roads and broadband, can’t handle a development comparable to Napa Valley.
Jodi Howell-Repke, who spoke during the Q&A, urged the Hoffmanns to consider how the plan would impact emergency services, such as the volunteer fire department she said her husband serves. She wondered whether they had reached out to MoDOT about the status of “curvy” Highway 94.
“We live in this area. (MoDOT) did not anticipate there being a bunch of drunk drivers on those roads back to Highway 40,” she said. “And you’re going to bring in a lot more people who have to get home. If they are not staying at your hotel, that is a concern for a lot of people out here.”
Following the meeting, Glenda Drier told The Missourian more drunk drivers are a huge concern for the town, sharing that they already endanger the people who live there.
“I’m lucky to be here because I was almost hit by one head on, and I’m not the only one out in this area (who has),” she said. “I don’t want to see more and more of them coming out.”
During the Q&A, Hoffmann responded that while the area already attracts people with its wineries, he would be adding the transportation infrastructure, such as trolleys, buses and a limo service, that would offer patrons a way to leave.
“We’re not building a new venue; we’re saying to all those people who are already there, ‘Hey, we have a way to transport you that you currently don’t have,’ ” Hoffmann said during the meeting.
Long term, he said he hopes the trolley service can run from St. Louis to Hermann, and he envisions a paddleboat connecting Augusta to Washington. The economic development directors in both Washington and Hermann support the development, Hoffmann said.
Drier, a fifth-generation Augustan who said she is in favor of some parts of the plan but doesn’t think other parts are realistic, said later that whether people use the transportation depends on how much it costs.
Others in the crowd wondered how long the renovations would take. Hoffmann said his plan is to complete everything in three years.
“You will see something happen every month for a long time,” he said. “We will get in and get it done. We will be good neighbors.”
Although he did not reveal the potential locations of the proposed 50- to 95-room hotel, Hoffmann said the build would mimic the architecture of the town’s historic buildings. He said every vineyard owner he had talked to, from Defiance to Hermann, said a hotel was needed in the area, primarily to house wedding guests.
“I don’t think our business is going to affect the (bed and breakfast) business. I know we have some 64 B&Bs in the area. We think it’s going to enhance it,” he said. “For one, a lot of weddings have more people than we’ll be able to fit in the hotel, and also I think people who stay in B&Bs don’t want to stay in a hotel.”
Hoffmann also said he has not yet talked with St. Charles County officials about some aspects of his plan that will need their approval.
“I’ve never dealt with them, but I know they’re very protective of the wine region,” he said. “They want to make sure the wine country stays vibrant.”