Brewer eyes fire hall, pursuing the beer that may yet make Mount Airy famous

April 15, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Excitement is brewing in Mount Airy over the future of the old town fire hall.

A potential buyer is interested in turning the Main Street building, which has been vacant for a year and a half, into a pub brewery or a microbrewery.

Although the plan is still in the preliminary stages, and the potential buyer hasn't been identified, Mount Airy residents are giving their enthusiastic approval.

"I've never seen people so excited about something that's a long way off," said Bob Hilton of Macintosh Realty, who is handling the purchase of the fire hall.

His client, who doesn't want to be identified, has made an offer to the Mount Airy Fire Department to purchase the building. The listing price was $415,000.

A pub brewery is limited to producing 2,000 barrels of beer annually and can sell it only on the premises. A microbrewery is permitted to produce 10,000 barrels of beer a year and can sell the beer off-site.

Mount Airy residents say a microbrewery would be a welcome addition to Main Street, where several buildings stand vacant.

"If it should materialize, it will be a tremendous asset to the downtown," said Mayor Gerald Johnson. "It's been proven in other areas that it's definitely a very strong tourist attraction."

Several small breweries have begun operations in Maryland in the past five years, seeking to capitalize on the growing popularity of such nationally prominent microbrewery beers as Samuel Adams and Anchor Steam.

The most recent entry in the local beer business is the Frederick Brewing Co., which began bottling Blue Ridge beers in November in a renovated building in downtown Frederick.

Other microbreweries include Oxford Brewing in Linthicum and Wild Goose on the Eastern Shore.

Maryland also is home to a handful of brew pubs and microbreweries, including Oliver Breweries, the Baltimore Brewing Co. and Sisson's/South Baltimore Brewing Co.

Some Mount Airy Main Street business owners believe that a brewery could spark a major downtown revitalization.

"I think it would bring people to the downtown area who aren't coming here now," said Town Council President Delaine Hobbs, owner of People's Lumber on Main Street.

Mayor Johnson has said that the future of downtown Mount Airy depends on the ability to attract businesses and stores that shoppers can't find in area malls and shopping centers.

"Downtown needs a draw," Mr. Hilton said. "If you don't get a draw, downtown Mount Airy's going to die."

Mr. Hilton said his client is a former Mount Airy resident who lives out of state but wants to return to the town to open the brewery.

"He wants to get out of the rat race and be the world's best brewmeister," Mr. Hilton said. "He's pursuing a dream."

At Mr. Hilton's request, Del. George H. Littrell, a Frederick Democrat, asked the Carroll delegation to introduce legislation to allow the operation of pub breweries and microbreweries in the Mount Airy election district. The bill passed in the General Assembly this week.

Other state laws governing the operation of breweries require pub breweries and microbreweries to have restaurants on their premises and limit the amount of beer the breweries can produce.

The Carroll legislation is the first of many obstacles to be cleared before town residents can boast of a beer brewed in Mount Airy.

Negotiations for the sale of the old fire hall are in the early stages.

If the sale goes through, Mr. Hilton said, his client would have to obtain a special exception from the town's Board of Zoning Appeals to operate a brewery. The owner would then have to go before the town's Planning and Zoning Commission to obtain site plan approval.

"There's a lot of hurdles to overcome between here and the first beer," Mr. Hilton said.

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