By Jesse Wood
March 11, 2013. After the Avery County Board of Commissioners voted against Flat Top Brewing Company, LLC, from operating in the business incubator at the old Banner Elk School, Commissioner Reo Griffith posted “No Brewery!!” on his Facebook page.
At the March 4 meeting, Griffith made the motion to stop the brewery from being included in A.C. P.R.I.D.E., which stands for Avery County Professional and Retail Incubator Development Enterprise. Attached to his motion was another motion that stated no breweries allowed on any county property.
Following that motion, Griffith created another motion to abandon the business incubator project entirely. However, that motion died without a second.
Griffith couldn’t be reached on Monday morning, however Commissioner Martha Hicks, who voted against the brewery as well, said that she “felt like that was not what the taxpayers wanted.”
“They are the ones who put up the money to fix the school and stuff, and they just didn’t want their taxpayer money going back into something that a brewery was going to be in,” Hicks said.
At the meeting, 15 people spoke before the commissioners. 14 spoke out against the brewery and 1 person spoke in favor of the brewery. Hicks said that she received several phone calls from people who weren’t in favor of the brewery and folks stopped her in the grocery store and in the pharmacy to tell her not to allow the brewery inside the incubator.
“I’ve lived in the county for 68 years and worked for the public all of my life and I figured before it was over with that this would come to a halt like it did Monday night,” Hicks said.
Avery County Economic Development Director Bret Gardella initially proposed the business incubator idea for the old school as a way to spur job creation, but Hicks said that the brewery would only provide six jobs.
“Compared to a population of about 18,000 in Avery County, that’s a pretty low number,” Hicks said.
Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly was for a brewery inside the incubator but added that since the old school is owned by the county, the Town of Banner Elk doesn’t have any say, aside from making sure town ordinances are met, in what happens with the incubator.
“It would have been nice to have the brewery in that spot in the incubator. I think the owner of the brewery was anxious to be in there. He’s now looking at another option in the Town of Banner Elk, so we may still have a brewery,” Lyerly said.
Gardella said that he first began working with Nathan Paris of Flat Top Brewing in September or October to find the “best location” for the brewing company.
Paris couldn’t be reached on Monday. But in a “Letter to the Editor” a month ago, Paris wrote that benefits of a brewery include the tax revenue, job creation and the cooperation with local agriculture and other businesses, such as working with local farmers to grow hops for the beer. He also added that a brewery in Avery County would draw tourists to the area.
As for A.C. P.R.I.D.E., Paris wrote that the breweries inclusion into the incubator would greatly enhance the success of his business.
“I feel very strongly that the AC PRIDE Incubator provides the best venue to make this happen for multiple reasons other than the obvious one being the location. As a novice business owner, I would benefit greatly from the educational resources to be offered there including general business as well as computer classes,” Paris wrote.
One of the two Avery County commissioners to vote for the brewery was Commissioner Glenn Johnson, who reread a lengthy statement at the March 4 meeting that he read at a previous meeting, which discussed the proposed incubator, brewery, and the “great divide” occurring in Avery County.
He spoke about how Avery County will look much different in 20, 40 and 50 years from now.
“I don’t think anyone knows but it will most certainly be different from today. We are in a constant process of change. It is our nature to resist change, but if everything around us changes and we do not, then we become stagnant and we continue to lose our young people,” Johnson said. “Now while I don’t drink alcohol or necessarily like the fact that this seems to be the direction or at least one direction that Avery County is moving in, the fact remains that times are changing.”
Johnson finished his statement by saying, “Beer is already being trucked in from who knows where, made in distant cities and in some cases in foreign countries. So since the business incubator is about job creation and bringing in more tax dollars via business taxes, sales tax and tourist dollars why would anyone be against that. I am not necessarily a proponent of the brewery as was stated in a local newspaper but I am a proponent of economic development in this county and in so doing creating jobs and a better quality of life for our citizens especially our young people who are our future. If we continue to do the same things the same way we will continue to get the same results. Let’s think outside the box! Let’s be about the people’s business!”
After jumping several hurdles, a microbrewery recently opened on Valentine’s Day in Boone and a brewery in Blowing Rock has plans of opening sometime soon. Time will tell if Banner Elk will be home to a brewery, but it seems likely it won’t be on county property.