- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - A $350,000 line item in Athens-Clarke County’s budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is aimed at keeping the Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, according to documents released by the county under an open-records request from the Athens Banner-Herald.

According to those documents, Athens-Clarke County apparently is in competition with South Carolina over Terrapin. In an Oct. 30, 2014 email to state Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville, seeking state economic development assistance, Terrapin co-founder and president John Cochran writes that in the course of discussions with the landlord for its 265 Newton Bridge Road facility in Athens, “we felt it was in our best interest to perform due diligence and look at other opportunities. We ended up in talks with SC about a potential site. The state and local governments are willing to contribute upwards of $10 million toward a total project of $18-20M to build a new facility in SC.” That new facility, Cochran wrote, would easily allow Terrapin to grow to 300,000 barrels of production or more annually. But he goes on to write that Athens-Clarke County has “stepped up” with its proposal, “(a)nd we want to stay in Athens, GA.”

Allison Skipper, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Commerce, would neither confirm nor deny that the state is in negotiations with Terrapin, saying only that her department doesn’t discuss proposed economic development projects.

The open-records request filed by the Athens Banner-Herald was based on language in county budget documents that identify the $350,000 in Athens-Clarke’s 2016 fiscal year budget, approved earlier this month by commissioners, only as “annual support for Economic Development projects.” The budget document goes on to note cryptically that the mayor and commission “are currently reviewing an opportunity to partner with a local company to significantly expand their operations … .”

The $350,000 outlay for Terrapin Beer, if approved by county commissioners - it’s not on any commission agenda - would represent the first year of a long-term commitment to the company, although funding future years of the agreement would come at a lower cost than the initial year.

Under the deal as envisioned - no part of any arrangement has yet been approved by the Athens-Clarke County Commission - the county or an associated entity is set to provide $1.7 million through an escrow account that Terrapin can use to acquire two tracts totaling nearly six acres adjacent to its current facility at 265 Newton Bridge Road to accommodate the brewery’s expansion plans.

The proposed deal, a draft of which was signed by Terrapin co-founder and president John Cochran and Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson in late April, calls for the county to hold title to the land and lease it back to Terrapin for 10 years, at which time Terrapin could buy the property from the county or negotiate a new lease agreement.

Under the proposal, annual rent on the building would be set at $275,000 annually, but would be reduced to just $50,000 per year - a $225,000 savings - as long as Terrapin maintains its current level of employment and creates a minimum of 25 jobs over the next six years at a median wage of $30,000. An email from Cochran to Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Director Ryan Moore indicates the company plans to have 66 full-time workers employed this year.

The agreement also calls for Terrapin to invest “a minimum of $12,000,000 in plant and equipment over a six year period at the Athens facility.”

According to the October 2014 email from Terrapin’s Cochran to Sen. Ginn, the company produced 47,000 barrels of beer in 2014, and is projecting to produce 64,000 barrels this year. “Long range plans have us producing over 100k bbls by 2018 with the potential to hit 200k+ in the next decade,” Cochran told Ginn.

Documents provided to the Banner-Herald under the open-records request indicate that Terrapin first approached Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department Director Ryan Moore in August of last year. In a brief email sent on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, Cochran wrote, “Ryan, do you have availability for a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday? I’d like to have a discussion on the ways ACC (Athens-Clarke County) can help Terrapin as we grow. Thanks, John.”

In a follow-up mail sent two days later, Cochran provides Moore with a summary of incentives offered by “another state” totaling several million dollars on the basis of a $37 million investment by the company in a new facility and the creation of 100 new jobs.

Eventually, the local effort to keep Terrapin was given a name - the term Project Shell appears repeatedly in documents regarding the effort.

At one point in the months between August and the April signing of the draft agreement with Athens-Clarke County, Terrapin and county officials discussed the possibility of the brewery moving into the vacant Westclox facility across Newton Bridge Road from the existing brewery, but that plan was eventually abandoned.

Also during the process, local officials contacted the state government with regard to assistance for Terrapin. Documents released to the newspaper show only slight interest at the state level, comprising an offer of assistance to Terrapin with regard to plant layout and efficiency from Georgia Tech’s FaciliTech program.

Cochran did not return a Tuesday phone call seeking comment on the effort to keep his company in Athens-Clarke County, and Moore would say only that the county does not comment on pending economic development projects.

___

Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide