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How the quest to make Augusta the next Napa has left some residents uneasy

 The view from Montelle Winery in Augusta. Several trees were cleared out after the Hoffmanns purchased the winery to improve the scenery.
File photo / Wayne Pratt
St. Louis Public Radio
The view from Montelle Winery in Augusta. Several trees were cleared out after the Hoffmanns purchased the winery to improve the scenery.

Augusta is a small wine country town about an hour outside of St. Louis. For years, its 300 or so residents have known that the place could use some investment. Now that it’s getting $125 million of it, though, they worry it’s too much.

David and Jerri Hoffmann of the Hoffmann Family of Companies have begun investing in Augusta, buying up wineries, painting buildings bright splashy colors and running buses throughout the town. As Kathy Gilsinan details in an Oct. 27 Riverfront Times cover story, there’s even been talk of installing a zipline and a helipad.

Gilsinan explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air that some residents see the merit in all the new developments — like their town finally having its own grocery store and gas station. With it, though, come negative aspects, like the threat of increased property taxes.

Kathy Gilsinan on the changes coming to Augusta

“The property values are going up, which is great if you want to leave,” Gilsinan said. “If your family's been there for five generations, as some families have, your taxes go up. And say you're a farmer who's just barely making it anyway. You can't afford additional taxes just so some tourists can come in from St. Louis.”

Gilsinan said many people are worried because they don’t know where all the economic development will end. She noted that the Hoffmanns seem to be making bigger changes than they originally promoted.

“Everything seemed to keep getting bigger, so it's no longer a nine-hole golf course, now it's a proposed 12-hole golf course,” Gilsinan said. “It was a 96-foot luxury yacht, now it's like a 103-foot luxury yacht, and it's three stories.”

Some workers are happily employed by the Hoffmanns now and are hopeful about the town’s future. But the question on a lot of people’s minds, Gilsinan said, is who has control of the town going forward.

“As one of my sources asked — ‘Do I get as much of a say, having lived here for five generations as this guy coming in with a lot of money?’ No, probably not.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr

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