New business discussed by council

Christy Howell-Hoots - [email protected]

AUGUSTA — A possible new business renting out the FA Neider building was discussed on Tuesday during a special city council meeting.

The building will be used for an alcohol distillery, gift shop, visitor’s center, museum and barrel storage and named Augusta Sweet Water, according to city officials.

The terms of the lease for the company include a 50 year agreement, beginning Aug. 1, 2018. The first year’s rent will be waived. From Aug. 1, 2019-July 31, 2023, the rent will be $700 per month, from Aug. 1, 2023-July 31, 2028, rent will be $800 per month. From Aug. 1, 2028 and on, the monthly rent will increase $100 per month for each five year period.

“At the end of the 50 years, the owners will have an option to buy the building for $150,000,” Augusta Mayor Wendell High said. “The city will assume the liability for any required remediation the environmental conditions, providing we can find the funding.”

High said the city is applying for funding through the Brownsfield program in hopes to clean up the building before it is rented. If the city is unable to complete the project, and the renters do not wish to do so, the lease can be terminated.

Other stipulations in the lease require the renters to be responsible for all repairs and improvements inside and outside the building. The city will maintain insurance on the building and a plaque honoring the Homan family will be installed on the building.

Augusta resident Carol Williams will be the general manager of the business.

Williams said she was looking forward to potentially beginning work on the inside of the building in August.

“On behalf of the Augusta Sweet Water team, I want to thank the city of Augusta, the city council, the city staff and everyone for their support this evening in their efforts to bring to life a world class Bourbon brand and world class tourism experiences that honors Augusta’s past, present and future and preserves its authentic small town hospitality and generosity. We looked forward to continued collaborative spirit offered to us by the city thus far in our journey,” she said.

According to Williams, the business was considered after discussing options with others in Augusta.

“There were a couple of creative ideas going on about opening a distillery or brewery because of the popularity of Bourbon and the popularity of craft Bourbon, craft breweries,” she said. “Those ideas were brought forth by people who live in Augusta, who love Augusta and want to take it forward into the future.”

The city council approved having the mayor sign the lease agreement once some corrections have been made to it.

During the meeting, the city council also discussed whether or not it would be possible for the city to complete billing for the Augusta Regional Sewer Authority, once the sewage plant goes online in a few years.

At a previous meeting, John Yingling, with ARSA, asked the council if they would be willing to approve city employees maintaining the billing for the organization at no charge.

“I’m asking you to do this because if you charge us for the billing, we have no other recourse but to pass that on to the customer,” Yingling said at the June 22 city council meeting. “The city of Brooksville has already given us a verbal agreement that they will not charge ARSA for the billing. However, the county has to charge something, though I’m unsure of the amount that will be right now.”

According to Yingling, if the city charges ARSA for the billing, once the sewer plant goes online, the administrative costs for completing the bills would be passed on to customers.

Both High said he was not fully in favor of the idea, but felt by not approving it, the citizens of Augusta would suffer.

“I’m not fond of it,” High said. “But, I also don’t want to cost the citizens anymore money.”

High said it would, however, be a one year contract.

Council member Tay Kelsch expressed concerns with having the city complete the billing.

“But it sets a precedent,” he said. “They ought to be running their own shop. I agree there are administrative costs, but they’re asking the city of Augusta, through the general fund, to subsidize those costs. They have not investigated what the costs would be through doing it either themselves or through a third party. I think maybe they should do a little more due diligence on it before they come to us and ask us to do it. I think we should provide the data we receive through the water, but whether we charge them for it, or not, I don’t know.”

Kelsch said he believes the bills should have ARSA’s name on them, along with phone numbers to contact with questions.

Council Member Matt McCane suggested tabling the subject until an ARSA representative could be at the meeting.

“There are a lot of questions and comments going back and forth here, but there is no one here to address them,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere tonight.”

The subject was tabled until the July regular meeting.

The sewage plant is expected to be built and online by 2021.

Christy Howell-Hoots

[email protected]