Creature Comforts, Athens-Clarke detail proposal for new facility on Southern Mill property
Creature Comforts Brewing Company will get $475,000 from an Athens-Clarke County government economic development fund to help equip a second Athens brewery, to be located in the Southern Mill mixed-use project off North Chase Street.
The existing Creature Comforts brewery and tasting room on West Hancock Avenue, which opened in 2014, will remain in operation, and the arrangement with the county in connection with the expansion will allow the brewing company to remain in Athens.
Chris Herron, CEO of Creature Comforts, estimates that the company will invest $8 million in its new Southern Mill facility over the next five years. The $475,000 from the county will be channeled through the Athens-Clarke County Industrial Development Authority, which will use the money to purchase brewing equipment for the new Creature Comforts facility.
Creature Comforts will, in turn, lease the equipment from the county for a token $5 annually for five years. The new brewery is expected to be open by the fall of 2017, with significant production increases beginning in 2018.
But also as part of the deal, Creature Comforts has agreed to create 25 new “full-time equivalent” jobs in Athens. Those jobs will have salaries in the $35,000 range, according to Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson.
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Athens-Clarke County commissioners — Commissioner Kelly Girtz was not in attendance — approved the deal unanimously at a special called meeting Tuesday evening. County government staff had kept the mayor and commission apprised of the status of negotiations with Creature Comforts throughout the process that ended with the Tuesday vote, Commissioner Harry Sims said Tuesday.
In a news release issued shortly after the commission approved the deal, Creature Comforts noted that demand for the company’s products has grown to the point that the downtown location alone cannot keep pace with that demand.
“When we opened Creature Comforts, one of our six guiding principles was community, and we are extremely excited to have an opportunity to stay and grow our business here in Athens, a city we love,” Herron said in the news release.“We are grateful for the cooperation and assistance of the Athens-Clarke County government on this project. We look forward to building another brewery this community will be proud of.”
With regard to the Southern Mill location, Herron said, “This part of Athens is becoming a creative hub and we look forward to being a part of its growth for many years to come. … We will make every effort to preserve the structure and materials on the site, and just as we did at Snow Tire, we will honor the history of the site.””
The cotton mill opened in 1900 but has not been operational since the late 1990s, and a section of the property is being developed as residential and commercial property separate from the Creature Comforts project.
“This is exciting news for the Athens-Clarke County economy,” Ryan Moore, director of the Office of Economic Development for Athens-Clarke County, said in the news release on the Creature Comforts expansion. “We are taking an innovative approach to supporting an existing industry that has quickly become part of the fabric of Athens.”
Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams, addressing the commissioners Tuesday prior to the vote, said the arrangement is “an investment in our community.”
“We want to keep those expansions here,” Williams said, going on to say that Creature Comforts’ decision to expand on the Southern Mill tract will bring investment and development “to an area arguably in need of that.”
Commissioner Melissa Link, whose district includes the Southern Mill tract, said it is possible that the development coming to the area with the Creature Comforts expansion could create “a domino effect” spurring further development of the intown area along and near North Chase Street.