Investment group wants old Furlow School building

Published 6:10 pm Tuesday, November 13, 2018

By Beth Alston

Americus could become craft-beer destination
AMERICUS — Among a number of items on the agenda for the mayor and city council’s agenda-setting meeting last Thursday was a visit from the Greg Quail Group which is interested in the old Furlow School building. Greg Quail, a businessman from Australia, was also involved in the renovation project of an historic house on West College Street for which a pilot was made for a possible television series.
Quail, in addressing the mayor and council, said that during the filming of that project, he had visited Americus “six, eight or 10 times” and “fell in love with Americus, its people, its attitude, its style, and its architecture.”
“I was drawn to Americus,” Quail said, because he sees the city as a town with unrealized potential. He said what with the popularity of the craft brewing business, Americus could have a new industry if his group’s vision comes to fruition. They want to obtain the historic old school building, located at the corner of Church and Jackson streets, gut it, install a new roof, and start a craft beer brewery on the site.
“This is a way to save this historic building,” he said. “It is not long for this earth. One corner has no roof, and a second corner is about to collapse within nine months.”
Quail used the revitalization of Bend, Ore., as an example of what craft brewing can do for a city. In the 1980s, the city’s major employer, a pulp mill, closed, and 90 percent of the population found themselves jobless. Someone started a craft brewery there and now there are 20 with about 2,000 employees, with an economic impact of some $2 billion to the city. Statewide, craft brewing contributes $33 billion to the state, according to one of the investors.
Quail’s plan, craft boutique brewing, has made a significant difference in Bend, Ore., and can also do so for Americus, he said. “Look ahead 20 years, with a brewery industry here. You could have an upgraded airport, host music festivals and other events.”
The immediate plan, Quail said, is to request the city to accept their proposal for Furlow becoming a craft brewery and a beer-tasting room and maybe a place for lunch. He said he’s talked with the local institutions of higher learning about the possibility of a craft brewery academy. He sees developing a precinct, zoned industrial but family-oriented, with upgrades in water, sewer, and power. He also sees using tax rebates and grants for the renovation project.
“Our proposal is for the city to consider gifting it [the building] on an option for $1 and give us 24 months,” Quail said.
Quail said the renovation would take between 24 and 36 months, and the entire project can be completed in six to eight months. Mayor Barry Blount asked that Quail present a written proposal for the city to review.
One of the major discussions at Thursday’s meeting concerned increasing the rental rate of the Rees Park Economic Development Center. The mayor and council had discussed the condition of the building last month when the mayor reported that normal wear and tear on the rental hall will result in having to spend money to replace the flooring, tables and chair, etc.
But on Thursday, Blount also reported that “the building is falling apart” with 90 percent of the windows deteriorating at a rapid rate. The 100-year-old building was completely remodeled following the 2007 tornado, using insurance funds as well as grant funds.
“The damage has already gotten into the fascia board,” Blount told the council. “We’re about to have to spend money on Rees Park or it will end up like the Furlow building.”
The mayor added that some of the window panes in the building are “hanging by their fingernails,” the microwave oven and refrigerator need replacing, and the flooring in the big meeting area has been damaged. He said Georgia Southwestern State University has decided not to rent the GSW Golf and Conference Center after Jan. 31, 2019, due to floor damage from overuse.
The mayor proposes raising the rent for the Rees Park building from $750 to $1,000. “We don’t need to have taxpayers’ money helping to finance wedding receptions and family reunions,” he said. He encouraged members of council to visit the building and see for themselves the shape it’s in. He said there is money from SPLOST for maintenance of the building and all the other facilities owned by the city.
Council member Nelson Brown asked where the funds from rentals go, and Diadra Powell, city CFO, said the funds go into the city’s General Fund to be utilized by the entire city. Brown said he wants a current accounting of what’s been spent so far. Powell said the tenants of the building pay “practically nothing.” The mayor explained that two of the tenants — the Chamber of Commerce and the PDA — pay a portion of the monthly power bill.
Council member Daryl Dowdell asked if rental funds can be used to purchase new chairs, etc. The mayor said, “It will increase expenditures. The PDA, Chamber and One Sumter occupy the second floor. They will have to contract for cleaning and landscaping costs. The city has been doing it for 10 years, but they’re going to have to take it over.”
Council member Juanita Wilson asked why not just charge the tenants rent? Blount responded, “Unless we commit to fixing the building, they (Chamber, PDA and One Sumter) will leave. That’s the conversation they wanted to have.”
“So, they want the taxpayers to pay for their space?” asked Council member Kelvin Pless. “The difference is that the PDA is an economic development arm for the city,” the mayor responded.
Council member Brown commented that those entities are also funded by the county as well as the city. “Why don’t we charge them more?” he asked. The mayor said, “If we suggest they pay rent, they will probably vacate the building.”
The city already gives the Chamber $1,500 a year, the PDA gets $50,000 annually, and One Sumter was given $50,000 from the city during its fundraising campaign several years ago.
The discussion quickly deteriorated into the policies regarding the use of inmate labor.
Mayor and council will vote on the rental increase at Thursday’s meeting which has been changed from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. due to the Downtown Christmas Open House.
On the consent agenda for Thursday are the following items.
• Approve a bid for an above ground tank veeder root system at the Muckalee Lift Station in the amount of $19,567.44 from Barber Petroleum. This is one of the many projects related to the improvements at the city’s waste water treatment plant approved by council earlier this year.
• Approve a bid to purchase a weather station which will allow the Americus Fire & Emergency Services’ Type 3 HazMat Team to have access to live information during storms even if power is lost. This is a budgeted item, and a requirement of GEMA.
• Approve a bid for 10 sets of turnout gear for the Americus Fire & Emergency Services. This is a budgeted item.
• Approve a bid for five sets of air packs for the Americus Fire & Emergency Services. This is also a budgeted item.
The other items on Thursday’s agenda are to consider approving a bid for the Lee and Church Street Gateway Project; and consider approving the 2019 LMIG recommendation for street resurfacing.