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Owensboro Distillery names Lewisport as potential site for additional facility and Rickhouses

The big topic of discussion at the Hancock County Fiscal Court meeting on Monday, December 12th was the proposal made by the tenth oldest distillery in the state of Kentucky, Green River LLC in Owensboro, to build warehouses in Lewisport. Judge/Executive Johnny Roberts said, “We’re really excited about the potential of this project and what it could mean for Hancock County.”

The proposal has not yet been finalized, but according to the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) Report, the company approved a preliminary resolution for manufacturing rickhouses in Lewisport on Thursday, December 8th. The project description as stated on the report outlines that the distillery has opened a bottling facility to bottle its own brand and is considering purchasing land to construct an additional facility and barrel warehouses (rickhouses).

Bardstown Bourbon Company purchased Green River and its Owensboro distillery in July, and if they choose to expand existing operations in Hancock County, then starting on the date of activation, the projected job target is 15 employees with an average hourly wage target of $28 an hour, including employee benefits. In the second year of operation, that job target increases to 20 employees, and in the third year raises to 25. The annual approved cost limitation is $40,000 (per year) and the total negotiated tax incentive amount is $600,000.

The report also showed their anticipated project investment for land, building and improvements, equipment and other start-up costs. For land, the total investment they anticipate is $5 million. For building and improvements, $54,725,000, and for equipment – $2,500,000. Other start-up costs are projected at $250,000, equalling a grand total of $62,475,000 for the anticipated investment in the project altogether.

Mike Baker, Director of Economic Development for the Hancock County Industrial Foundation said, “We don’t know the details of what their plans are but the bourbon industry is growing and expanding everywhere and we’re just excited that they have a plan to expand in Hancock County. Several years ago (spring of 2019), Green River wanted to build some rickhouses in Daviess County, but Daviess County Planning & Zoning did not rezone that land for them and so that’s when they went to Ohio County. We showed them property at that time and they chose to go to Ohio County. This time they’ve chosen Hancock County, so we’re really excited about the opportunity.”

If the distillery follows through with their plan, it is possible that the Dowell Tile Plant and surrounding 60-70 acres would be the spot they choose. Gary Nugent of GN Excavation purchased the property after the plant shut down and had been using it for warehousing for some of the local industry and preparing and recycling metal.

Gary said, “They were talking about buying all of that land and, the way I understand it, instead of just building rickhouses on that land, they were talking about purchasing the tile plant building and it would be a large warehouse as well. It would be a different kind of warehouse, one they store the barrels on pallets, like a rickhouse.”

They didn’t say how many rickhouses they planned to build, he said. “I believe there were five or six, is what their goal was. They were still working through the stuff with the environmental people and the wetland people and different stuff, and making sure everything was going to be o.k. On one plan, they were considering 5 rickhouses and on the other one was 6. I don’t know which one they were going to use.”

Gary said that the land is already zoned appropriately for it. “It’s outside the city limits and it’s already zoned. I don’t think they’ll have a zoning issue here. If the deal goes through, it’ll be a great thing for the county and, from what I understand, for the school system also. The school system will get a lot of tax benefits from it, the way I understand it. And, right now the ground is not being used. I don’t foresee there being anything negative about it and it’s going to create jobs.”

Green River LLC, founded in 1885, has a very interesting story. The original owner, J.W. McCulloch had great success, including a Gold Medal for “Best in Show” at the Paris Exposition and the Grand Prize at the 1905 Exposition in Belgium. His whisky was known as “the most expensive spirit ever sold” because 20 barrels had once been traded for interest in a Colorado gold mine. A distillery grounds fire ended his legacy though, and in just a short 3 hours, it burned to the ground. McCulloch rebuilt, only to be met with the Prohibition, which would prevent him from seeing his whiskey empire rise again. Reviews had called his product “King among whiskeys.” Over the years it has changed hands several times.

By Jennifer Wimmer

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