After months of renovations, Mark Allen said distilling equipment has started to arrive at the building near downtown Kennesaw.
But the whole deal may have to be overturned like a barrel of murky moonshine.
As it turns out, the city didn’t have the authority to waive the sprinkler requirement.
Instead, that’s the exclusive purview of Cobb County Fire Marshal Jay Westbrook. And he’s not budging.
Westbrook said the historic building at 2950 Moon Station Road will require a sprinkler system that could cost up to $30,000.
Westbrook said he will not authorize one drop of craft whiskey to be produced by Lazy Guy Distillery until the upgrade is complete.
“This is a deal breaker,” Allen said.
The only way to save the project at this point may be for the city to ante up more incentives to cover the added costs.
Westbrook said the determination by Cobb County was based on the distilling process producing “flammable liquid” and storing the alcohol on site.
The city of Kennesaw uses the Cobb County Fire Department for its fire services.
“When it comes to safety issues, approval must be given by the (county) fire marshal, and the report came back that the portion of the property housing the distillery needs to be sprinkled,” said Bob Fox, the city’s director of economic development and one of the main negotiators of the original deal with Allen.
By the time Lazy Guy Distillery opens its doors, Allen said he will have invested $200,000 and the extra fire safety expense is not something he is willing to fund.
Allen said he does not feel the city of Kennesaw was dishonest, but the sprinkler system cost was not in the business plan for the distillery.
If Allen has to purchase the equipment, with a majority of the cost going to run a waterline from the street to the building, then Lazy Guy Distillery will pack up and move out of state, he said.
“Every state bordering Georgia is much more tolerable,” Allen said about distillery regulations in neighboring states.
The code issue raised enough concern that Marietta’s economic development staff presented a report to City Council on June 26 about fire safety requirements for surrounding cities.
Beth Sessoms, Marietta’s director of economic development, said her department told Allen his business would be required to have sprinklers due to the concerns about flammable liquid.
Sessoms said she expected any city adhering to Cobb County regulations would require the same measures.
“That is a county decision not a city of Kennesaw decision,” Sessoms said.
City could further
Supporters in the community have given assurances the distillery will operate in Kennesaw, Allen said. He added that Fox said the city will do whatever it can to keep Lazy Guy Distillery.
On Wednesday, Fox updated the Kennesaw Development Authority on the distillery’s problem and asked if the board would be interested in further subsidizing the new business, covering as much as a third of the sprinkler system’s cost.
The Kennesaw Development Authority already committed $15,000 in assistance to Lazy Guy Distillery as part of the board’s recruitment for the establishment.
The funding, which was designated for property improvements, will not be released until the distillery obtains the needed business licenses.
The Kennesaw Development Authority has $130,000 in its operating account, with $40,000 available for business development, according to the board’s budget report for the period ending June 30.
Board member Ken Williams, who is in his first term with the board and works at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, said the business and property owners did not make an official request with the Kennesaw Development Authority and should ask in person at the next meeting Aug. 21.
Williams said he is willing to have the company explain their needs, but would “like to hear something about undue hardship.”
Allen said he would be glad to address the Kennesaw Development Authority, and is just waiting for a request from the board to attend its next meeting.
Fox reminded the board that Lazy Guy Distillery is already sparking media attention, and is a unique type of manufacturing business that will draw tourism to the city.