Bourbon County

Secret Central Kentucky golf course plan may involve bourbon distillery if money is right

This Bourbon County golf course might become an industrial site

The city of Paris wants to turn one of Kentucky's oldest golf course into industrial land, but won’t say what might go there.
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The city of Paris wants to turn one of Kentucky's oldest golf course into industrial land, but won’t say what might go there.

A Paris golf course is one of the sites being considered for a bourbon distillery.

Tony Mills, who said he is “with the bourbon industry,” made a preliminary presentation to Paris City Commission on Tuesday. His discussion was posted on the Facebook page for a group called Citizens for Good Growth.

Jacob Spears Distillery would be named for one of the first distillers in Bourbon County.

The distillery would create 75 jobs with an annual wage of $70,000 to $75,000, Mills said. The total annual payroll would be about $5 million. The potential site for the distillery would be Stoner Creek Golf Course, which was at the center of a controversial zone change earlier this fall.

“There are many hurdles that must be overcome,” Mills told the commission. The project depends on state incentives and negotiations with the city of Paris. The course is off East Main Street.

“I want to be very clear: None of this happens without the consideration of incentives from the state of Kentucky,” Mills said. “That has not been determined yet or even applied for.”

In addition to the 8,500-square-foot distillery, the plans also include a restaurant, a 20,000-square-foot visitors’ center, meeting event space, and a 5,000-square-foot agricultural museum that would tell the story of the county’s bourbon heritage, Mills said.

The footprint for the project would affect only about 10 or 15 percent of the 48-acre golf course, Mills said. Two warehouses would be on the property but other warehouses would be located elsewhere, Mills said.

“We feel like the preservation of the golf course is paramount,” Mills said. “It would be a private, executive course. .... We think it would be a very unique attraction that has not been done from the standpoint of bourbon tourism.”

Impact studies are still needed to determine labor resources, the effects on the environment, and the tourism potential, Mills said.

He did not say what other sites are being considered for the distillery.

Members of the Wyndamere neighborhood filed a lawsuit earlier this month asking a judge to overturn the Aug. 30 vote by city commission to approve a zone change for the golf course from commercial to light industrial.

The city had an option to purchase the property but did not own it at the time the zone change was requested. City officials said they had signed a nondisclosure agreement and would not say what type of company wanted the zone change, angering many neighbors of Stoner Creek.

John Vance, who lives in Wyndamere, attended the Tuesday city commission meeting. Vance said the proposed plans show a parking lot that is currently in a flood zone. Stoner Creek also provides the city’s drinking water. The area frequently floods.

Vance said as a taxpayer he is also concerned about the lack of financial information. Mills never said during the meeting how the project would be financed. Citizens who attended the meeting were not allowed to ask questions, he said.

“Who’s paying for this?” Vance said. “What kind of incentives do they want from the city? What kind of incentives do they need from the state?”

Vance and others said the city failed to give residents advance notice of the presentation. The city commission’s agenda for the Tuesday meeting only said “potential economic development project.”

The Paris Train Depot posted the plans on its Facebook page and said it supported the project.

According to records on the Bourbon County Property Value Administrator’s web site, the city has not yet purchased the property.

Mills said Wednesday that other sites are being considered in other counties and two in other states. He said Jacob Spears Distillery has no affiliation with Age International or Blanton’s, brands that had a connection to a former version of the company. Mills declined to disclose his investors at this time.

“We have an investor group, and we’re seeking to come to the state of Kentucky,” Mills said Wednesday.

Jacob Spears was a Revolutionary War veteran who in addition to being a distiller was a farmer, breeder of horses, and a dealer in bluegrass seed. He first began distillery whiskey in Kentucky in 1790 and is considered the first to coin the term “bourbon whiskey.”

In the 1810 census, Bourbon County has 128 distillers and a total production of 146,000 gallons.