Sandra Lindsey, director of the Downtown Development Authority, said several investors want to open a distillery in a long-vacant building. The venture would include a tasting room where visitors could order specialty cocktails and buy bottles of the spirits to take home.
"Craft distilleries and craft breweries are the hottest thing for tourism," Lindsey said. "It will bring in a little bit of (tax) revenue, and they're looking at a historic building that hasn't been used in 30 years."
Council members voiced support at their work session this week and asked City Attorney Frank Beacham to be ready to draft a local ordinance. The ordinance would go into effect only if voters approve the initiative, which is not necessarily certain.
"I hope they get out and do it; it's great for tourism," Council member Nancy Fricks said. "But there's people — people downtown — who don't want it."
The state sets certain dates for elections and the next opportunity for a vote would likely be March 19, according to City Clerk Judy Dickinson, who's also the elections supervisor.
The board is looking at three separate questions: sales of liquor by the drink, Sunday liquor sales and package sales of distilled spirits.
Beacham said the council can put the first two questions on the ballot but state law requires a petition to initiate a vote on package sales. The petition has to be signed by at least 35 percent of the city's registered voters, and it can't be sponsored by a government entity.
"It was the Jaycees that did it in Rome all those years ago," he noted.
Lindsey said she is confident there is a local group of citizens willing to sponsor the petition. Dickinson didn't have registration documents immediately available at the work session but she estimated about 225 signatures would be needed.
Legislation enacted last year allows sales at distilleries, with some limitations. The state license to manufacture liquor now automatically allows up to 500 barrels (equal to 26,500 gallons) a year to be sold directly to customers.
Retail sales, however, are only allowed if the local jurisdiction allows them, "and you can't sell liquor in Cave Spring," Beacham said.
Council member Charles Jackson noted that the investors could start a distillery in Cave Spring without the referendum and sell the product to licensed distributors. The operation, however, wouldn't bring in tourists.
No further action is expected until the petition is underway but, "right now we're ready to go," Jackson said. "We understand the process."