ATHENS, Ga. — Now, it’s Terrapin’s move.
In late April, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson and Terrapin Beer Co. President John Cochran signed a draft agreement outlining a county plan to keep the brewery in Athens.
The plan calls for the county to place $1.7 million in an escrow account that the company could use to acquire and make improvements to two tracts next to the brewery’s facility to expand its operations. The county would lease the building back to Terrapin, at a bargain rate of just $50,000 per year over 10 years. At the end of the 10 years, the company could either buy the land and improvements or negotiate a new lease with the county.
The bargain rate would apply as long as Terrapin meets conditions set by the county, including maintaining current levels of employment and adding a minimum of 25 new jobs over six years. Additionally, the agreement would require the company to invest at least $12 million in its Athens facilities over the next six years.
The county’s offer of assistance to Terrapin is a counteroffer to a proposal from South Carolina totaling several millions of dollars in return for Terrapin building a new facility in the state and creating 100 new jobs.
After the draft agreement was signed in April, Athens-Clarke County commissioners approved a budget including $350,000 in debt service funding as a first installment in covering the county’s obligations in the proposed deal.
None of the county officials contacted for this story, including Denson, could say when the commission might formally see the proposed deal and make a decision on it. Denson said she is not aware of any new negotiations with Terrapin.
Denson said that as far as she is concerned, the county’s existing offer is all that it can or will do for Terrapin, which was established in Athens in 2002.
“I don’t see us coming back with more,” she said.
However, Denson worries that news of the company’s interest in acquiring additional real estate might lead involved property owners to raise prices on the tracts in which Terrapin is interested, making a deal with the county more difficult to reach.
On the opposite of the political spectrum from the mayor, Commissioner Melissa Link – whose district includes the Terrapin Beer Co. facility – is also supporting some sort of deal to keep the brewery in Athens.
“I’ll be critical of some of these economic development deals,” she said, but added, “I support a proposal that benefits a local company. It would be a terrible shame to lose them.”
Link said she’s not certain when the commission might get a formal look at a Terrapin deal and take action on it.
Cochran did not return a Friday telephone message seeking comment on Terrapin’s plans with regard to the county’s offer of assistance.
Even as Terrapin Beer Co. has been talking with the county about the possibility of assistance with its planned expansion, the company has been involved in a legal dispute with its landlord, Bluebird Realty.
According to Clarke County Superior Court documents, Terrapin and Bluebird are in disagreement over the terms of a lease agreement involving the options given to Terrapin for purchasing the property. The last action in the case came on June 22, when a hearing on pending motions in the case was scheduled in front of Judge David Sweat.