ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Beer brewed in Albany could soon start flowing from taps all over the southeast. The craft brewing industry is exploding around the country, and Albany may join the craze. A microbrewery is one of two proposed projects Albany leaders hope will transform the heart of the city.
Three years after Albany's Art Park opened, it's a bust: locked up and vacant. But downtown leaders believe a new development plan for the lot on Pine Avenue will have much greater success.
"I think now we are kinda on the right road," said Downtown Manager Latoya Cutts.
A new local group, Pretoria Fields Brewing Company, plans to build an 18,000 square foot brewery with a tasting room and event space where the Art Park and two former Albany Herald buildings now sit.
"We really want to see a diverse mix of people in our downtown and really enjoying our downtown. I think this is that catalyst project," said Cutts.
The city is putting up $1.25 million from a revolving loan fund designed to attract private development downtown to make the project happen.
That money will be repaid to the loan fund over the next 15 years through the brewery's property taxes. City leaders insist it's a smart investment that will easily pay for itself and give the city's economy a jolt.
"This is one of those deals that's structured in a way where we are making sure that were looking out for the taxpayer," Cutts said.
Just down the street, another public/private redevelopment project is in the works.
"We've been at the drawing board day in and day out for a couple of months working to try to make sure that it succeeds," said Kian Sadri, who is a Novin Construction Managing Member.
Novin Construction, out of Atlanta, plans to turn Albany Heights, built in 1925 as the New Albany Hotel, into 74 upscale apartments.
"It seems like there's a need right now. There's nothing that's fulfilling that need to have people stay there after business hours, and we think that this is a great opportunity to get something going that will keep people there after 5:00," said Sadri.
The plan includes space on the first floor for a market with six to 10 food, craft, and retail vendors.
Novin is also getting public support. They're buying the building from the city for just 20% of its current assessed value, but downtown manager Latoya Cutts says the project will have a $6 million impact on the economy just this year and will put the property back on the tax role, turning a financial drain into a money maker for the city.
"We're spending just over $2,000 a month just on maintaining the property in an unused state," she said.
Across the street from Albany Heights, workers at the Subway are excited about both big downtown projects.
"I think it'll be great," said Stephanie Garner, Subway Manager.
Right now, Subway closes at 6:00 because there's just not much activity downtown at night. The manager says they would likely expand their hours and workforce if people move into Albany Heights and start going downtown for tours and tastings at the brewery.
"I just need people downtown. They just come on in and keep coming, we'll be fine," said Garner.
The downtown manager believes these two projects are different than previous plans and promises that never panned out.
"I just don't see any signs that these projects aren't going to happen," Cutts said.
The brewery has already missed a couple of deadlines listed on the Project Construction Schedule laid out in the Memorandum of Understanding with the city, but Cutts isn't concerned.
"There's a lot of groundwork that has been lad for these two projects," she noted.
She says that schedule is just a guideline and both projects are on schedule. Both developers are supposed to sign final contracts with the city this month and finish their projects by the end of this year.
Cutts believes they truly will transform downtown.
"When you come down Pine Avenue and Front Street, you're gonna see people walking up and down the street. You'll see some additional businesses that will open as a result of that microbrewery there. You'll see restaurants that are within close proximity," she added.
Pretoria Fields, LLC led by Albany surgeon Tripp Morgan, was formed last year specifically to build the microbrewery. He initially planned to build the brewery on a farm he owns in Dougherty County but abandoned that plan after opposition from nearby landowners, and after the city offered that big incentive.
No one connected to this project would do an interview with us, but they did tell us they are excited to build downtown.
They are currently finalizing architectural plans... meeting with branding experts... and working with a brewing industry consulting firm that has worked in more than 50 countries.
Novin Construction also formed last year. Director of Development Said Sadri has 35 years experience in the construction industry.
Albany Heights is their first and only major project right now.