|Alcohol producer considers Lenoir City
The Tennessee Senate’s State and Local Government Committee last week recommended a bill for passage that could allow a new type of business in Lenoir City.
Senate Bill 2003, which is sponsored by state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, would allow the manufacture of intoxicating liquors and drinks in Lenoir City. State Reps. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, are sponsoring the bill in the House.
Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens traveled to Nashville to support the bill. Aikens has been approached by a business that is interested in locating in downtown Lenoir City, he said.
“I’m only doing what the voters told me to do,” Aikens said. “They passed liquor by the drink several years ago and I think it would be — I firmly believe that drinking a glass of wine is not going to send you to hell. So I just think that it would be a huge economic boost for a company to come in, particularly the company I’m talking to that has plans for a possible distillery, a possible brewery and a possible restaurant combined. It would be a huge economic impact to Lenoir City.”
Aikens reached out to the Historic Downtown Lenoir City Merchants Association, Mary Bright, association president, said.
“We were, the merchants downtown, were in favor of such a facility,” Bright said. “Speaking with other merchants, they feel the same way.”
Bright believes a distillery or brewery could provide a significant boost to downtown traffic.
“I just think it will add something that can give more exposure and get more traffic in the downtown area, have more people to visit the downtown area,” she said. “... I think it’s something that you are seeing in lots of areas and especially in areas that have a lot of tourism and it brings a lot of tourism to the area.”
Jennifer Wampler, downtown business owner and a member of Lenoir City Council, agrees the new business could be a game changer for downtown. Wampler said the interested party is a “large restaurant” looking at the old Lenoir City Utilities Board building.
“It should give an anchor and even more life to downtown,” Wampler said. “Having a small business down there and, of course, promoting the theater, I am really rooting for downtown to come back. I think it is exactly the key piece that we need.”
Aikens believes landing the possible distillery or brewery could lead to more tourism opportunities.
“I had one city councilman to approach me about some type of tourist train that you get on down in another county and go down around Copperhill and places like that. If this goes through I’m going to contact them. I’m going to find out who is in charge of it and I’m going to try to get them to Lenoir City to drop those tourists off and go through the distillery.”
As far as alcohol concerns, Wampler said a possible brewery “is more of an exhibit.”
“A distillery is not a beer joint,” Aikens said. “We don’t have beer joints anymore in Loudon County, Tenn., thank goodness. It’s not where a bunch of drunks hang out. It’s a place where people go visit and buy souvenirs and, hopefully if they have the restaurant be able to go in, and eat dinner and if you want a glass of wine, have a glass of wine.”
SB 2003 noted that an exact fiscal impact “could not be reasonably estimated,” but if any manufacturers do locate in Lenoir City “any such fiscal impacts to state and local governments are estimated to be positive.”
The House Finance, Ways & Means committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend the bill for passage.
“I’m excited about it,” Aikens said. “I hope it happens. ... I’m on record by going to the senate and promote the bill. I did so and I did it without any hesitation because I know it’s going to be good for Lenoir City and particularly the downtown area if it happens. I think it will happen.”