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Brushy Mountain Penitentiary distillery plans excite locals

11:12 PM, Jul 15, 2013   |    comments
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A new distillery could be coming to the hills of East Tennessee and it could bring hundreds of jobs with it.

On Monday, several entrepreneurs from Chattanooga, named the Brushy Mountain Group [BMG], met with Morgan County community members to discuss changing the Brushy Mountain Prison in Petros into a distillery.

Brushy Mountain Prison closed in 2009. The state of Tennessee still owns the land.

Group member Brian May said BMG first approached the local economic development council a year ago.

"We got to try and figure out something to do with this [Brushy Mountain], it's too cool not to do something cool with it," he said.

Morgan County is currently a dry county, but that doesn't stop it from having a distillery. May said if BMG were to establish a distillery, his group would not push Morgan County to adopt "wet" laws.

"We don't want to change that in the least," he said.

The distillery would be the focal point of the project, but other amenities would be installed near the prison too. May, and his partners, discussed creating a festival lawn for fairgrounds, a restaurant, trails, even space for RV's. BMG believes the project could indirectly create 360 jobs in Morgan County.

Morgan County Commission Chair Susan Krist said she likes the idea.

"I would think it would be a great opportunity for them as well as us," she said.

Petros resident Condon White echoed that sentiment. He worked at Brushy Mountain Prison for more than three decades as a prison guard.

"It would bring more jobs here, and people wouldn't have to go 40, 50 miles to get to work," he said.

However, this deal is still far from being done. The County Commission still needs to collect and verify 700 signatures to call a special referendum on the issue.

The referendum, which could be called as soon as this year, would then question Morgan County residents as to whether they support the plan.

From there, BMG would continue to negotiate with the State of Tennessee as to how it or the county could acquire the prison property.

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Morgan County Commission will discuss plans to bring new life to the old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary Monday night.

The idea proposed: a distillery in the 117-year-old Petros building.

At one time, the prison housed such famous convicts as James Earl Ray. It closed in 2009, when inmates were transferred to the Morgan County Correctional Complex in nearby Wartburg.

10News learned from several county leaders that a Chattanooga-based group will present county leaders a proposal to buy the land and turn it into a distillery of some kind.

According to commissioner Steve Walls, the property would include other projects too, but he could not say what they are at this time.

"You either work at the prison, or you travel to Oak Ridge, Knoxville, Clinton," said Petros resident Jeremiah Norman. "This coming up here will bring a lot of jobs to not just this community, but to all of Morgan County."

"Our town is dying, our kids have no future (here)," said Sandra Moore, also of Petros. "They grow up and they either stay here and do nothing, or they have to move away to get jobs."

The state still owns Brushy Mountain, but the Morgan County Economic Development Board said the county is in the process of acquiring the land.

Meanwhile, there are some people who said they would like to see something else in the former prison other than a distillery.

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