Michter’s Distillery in Louisville is eyeing a piece of land in Springfield, and both Springfield City Council and Washington County Fiscal Court have moved to lift certain restrictions to bring it in.
County magistrates recently voted to waive covenants on lots in the industrial park upon request of the Springfield-Washington County Economic Development Authority.
The 6-0 roll call vote was held after the court came out of closed session at a Nov. 29 meeting. Just a few hours earlier that morning, City Administrator Laurie Smith said Springfield City Council also voted unanimously on the terms as presented by SWEDA in executive session.
Whether the company moves forward with coming here, however, remains unknown.
Michter’s executive vice president and general manager, Andrea Wilson, said that while she couldn’t give details on the company’s plans, the company loves the area, as well as the rich history here.
“The Springfield community is just a beautiful area in Kentucky,” Wilson said. “The people are very warm and kind and it’s a beautiful location.”
If the distillery were to build in the industrial park, it would bring the county into an area it’s been left out of for years.
“Well, I think for years we have watched the bourbon and distilled spirits industry really thrive and grow all around us,” SWEDA Director Daniel Carney said. “We are in the heart of bourbon country, but with no presence of our own in that industry.”
Because of the steps taken by local government, there is an opportunity for the county to get its feet wet.
“And, from an economic development standpoint, anytime you can diversify and add a new sector to your local industry, it’s a plus,” Carney said. “We have been blessed with some wonderful companies who have invested here and become great community partners, and we feel like this is another opportunity for us to expand on that.”
If things progress forward, Carney said six lots at the industrial park would be combined for the project.
Negotiations are still going on, but Carney was able to talk a little bit about what covenants were lifted at the park.
“The industrial park is industrial zoned, and we also have a set of protective covenants in place that reinforces certain criteria that are necessary for development,” Carney said. “In this case, there are certain items in those covenants that prevent things like retail establishments, restaurants, etc. And with the way the distilled spirits industry has become such a huge tourist attraction, with gift shops, restaurants, and other destination aspects, there were items that we had to look at, and make adjustments so that we weren’t being prohibitive to a piece of that industry that frankly we hope to see as part of this project.”
Carney said the votes held by city council and fiscal court allowed for the project to take the next step.
“There is still work to be done to make this come to fruition,” he said. “But, we are excited to move forward and really believe this can be a great asset to our community.”
Washington County-Judge Executive John Settles said waiving the covenants was necessary to move forward with the project, but the court had some concerns when it went into executive session.
“There were some very serious questions about some of the things they were asking,” Settles said. “We were very concerned about the impact and the effect on neighbors. Neighbors that lived around the park and neighbors that already exist inside the park.”
Currently, three entities exist in the park; Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, the new extension office, which is still under construction, and INOAC.
Settles noted the court’s action to waive the covenants has nothing to do with sale price or who would be moving in.
Settles believes Michter’s would build at least one specialized warehouse if it comes to Springfield.
“That was a concern because warehouses do not create many jobs,” Settles said. “However, because of the nature of their storage and aging (process), they have distilled spirits on site, which are taxable. The construction of their warehouse and eventually, anything else they build will bring in occupational taxes because of all the people that’ll be working to do all the construction.”
On top of that, property taxes would also be brought in to the community.
“If this all comes to fruition, it could greatly impact the school board and to a certain degree, Washington County Fiscal Court and the Springfield City Council,” Settles said.
He explained that more than 50 cents of every dollar collected in the distilled spirits tax would go to the Washington County Board of Education.
“The school board would receive a considerable amount from each warehouse,” Settles said.
After the meeting was over, Settles said he received a phone call from the president of the company and was assured that Michter’s wants to be a part of the community, and not just an industry that comes in and takes.
The opportunity, he said, will allow the county to showcase its other attractions, while also feeding, fueling and lodging folks.
“It makes me feel like we’ve made the right decision,” Settles said. “It could mean a tremendous boost in tourism, and tourism means more people from outside this community will be here spending money.”
Springfield Mayor Debbie Wakefield hit similar notes about the possible project. She said Michter’s could mean a lot to the city.
“Most importantly, it can mean economic development as we are always looking at ways to improve our economy and offers us diversity,” she said.
And diversifying could mean a lot to the city.
“While this may not bring a large number of employees, it does offer a community like Springfield an opportunity like we have never had before, and it is important that we capitalize on what the Bourbon Trail has to offer,” Wakefield said. “And, we feel like this could be only the beginning to more growth within this particular industry and perhaps beyond.”
She said joining the bourbon could bring people in to the city.
“From what I’m to understand, it could be a big tourism attraction,” Wakefield said. “Of course, with the bourbon trail surrounding our community, we were hopeful that eventually we could be officially on the bourbon trail and this location can accomplish that goal. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is said to be second only to Napa Valley’s wine trail and in Kentucky, tourism is the No. 3 industry in our state. So, of course, we want to capitalize on the tourism dollar because it can bring about commerce and some unique opportunities to our community.
Bourbon warehousing can also be a boom to our economy in the form of taxation. You can look at what our neighboring cities have been able to achieve to see that.”