Town hall slated for Smyrna’s plan to sell public land to brewery

StillFire Brewing, a Suwanee brewery, is planning to purchase land in downtown Smyrna to open a second brewery along Atlanta Road. Smyrna city leaders unveiled renderings of the proposed brewery recently, and will be hosting a town hall to discuss the proposed sell at 2 p.m. Sunday at City Hall, 2800 King St. (Courtesy City of Smyrna)

Credit: Matt Bruce

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StillFire Brewing, a Suwanee brewery, is planning to purchase land in downtown Smyrna to open a second brewery along Atlanta Road. Smyrna city leaders unveiled renderings of the proposed brewery recently, and will be hosting a town hall to discuss the proposed sell at 2 p.m. Sunday at City Hall, 2800 King St. (Courtesy City of Smyrna)

Credit: Matt Bruce

Credit: Matt Bruce

Smyrna’s plan to sell property to a Gwinnett County distillery has been hotly debated for months. The proposed sale will be the topic of discussion at a forum Sunday afternoon.

StillFire Brewing, a Suwanee brewery, is eyeing its second location to be built on an acre of land along Atlanta Road in the heart of Smyrna.

Smyrna currently owns a 1.7-acre parcel of undeveloped land at the intersection of Atlanta Road and Powder Springs Street. City officials said a recent property appraisal showed the land’s worth between $588,060 and $609,840 per acre. Smyrna proposes to sell about an acre of the downtown real estate to StillFire owners for $600,000, according to city officials.

Smyrna residents have criticized the potential deal for months. Some even staged protests on the property in July. Smyrna will hold a town hall meeting to hear residents’ thoughts at 2 p.m. Sunday inside City Hall, 2800 King St.

StillFire Brewing celebrated the grand opening of its current brewery along Buford Highway in Suwanee in October 2019. The business’ owners renovated an old Gwinnett County fire station after the department moved to a new location.

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StillFire owners signed a three-year lease deal with Suwanee with the option to purchase the building from that city at the end of the lease period.

Suwanee City Manager Marty Allen and Assistant City Manager Denise Brinson attended a Dec. 2 committee meeting and told Smyrna officials about the experience of partnering with StillFire for the past three years. Allen said the brewery has merged seamlessly with the police station, courthouse and a park at Suwanee Town Center, the city’s municipal complex near Buford Highway.

When Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton asked if Suwanee has had increases in crime or DUIs since the brewery opened, Allen said the local Taco Bell has had more calls for service than StillFire this year, according to Suwanee police numbers.

”It’s not a bar,” Allen said. “It’s a third place. It’s a place where people socialize, take their dogs, and it’s a really open place.”

The brewery is a key component of Smyrna’s downtown transformation, and one of the most controversial.

Smyrna leaders approved the downtown redevelopment plan Oct. 18 after fine tuning the details for three months.

Susan Wilkinson and Charles “Corkey” Welch were the two council members who voted against the reboot to Smyrna’s Village Green area. They both had reservations about the proposed brewery during a committee meeting last week. Wilkinson worried about parking battles between brewery patrons and people visiting the Smyrna Community Center across the street. Welch said he doesn’t envision a brewery at the proposed location in Smyrna.

“The big difference between y’all [...] is y’all had an old building that you really wanted to put somebody in,” he told Allen and Brinson. “We have one of the last pieces of vacant land right in front of our community center. Just quite frankly, I don’t want to put a brewery in front of it.”

The brewery has been a main point of contention for residents who object to the city’s downtown overhaul. Like Welch, many residents have said they’re opposed to the prime piece of city-owned property being sold to a brewery.

Norton addressed many of the critics’ concerns with Allen and Brinson. Among them were the fact that the brewery would incorporate food trucks instead of a formal restaurant into its plans.

Suwanee officials said the food truck concept has worked out well there and they’ve received no complaints about safety issues, delivery truck traffic or foul odors emanating from the brewery’s production process as some have suggested.

”Did we have conversations and concerns along the way beforehand? Absolutely,” Allen said. “But none of those have manifested themselves at all. It’s not your 1970s smoky bar.”

Aaron Bisges, StillFire’s co-owner and general manager, said he’s seen online speculation that the proposed Smyrna brewery would be an industrial level production. He denied that claim and noted that while the Smyrna facility will be substantially larger than the 4,500-square-foot brewery in Suwanee it will only have two silos and two or three box-style delivery trucks picking up beer from the location each week.

”We will have the capability of producing more (in Smyrna) than we do in Suwanee. But it is not this behemoth that maybe some people have in their heads of this giant production facility,” Bisges said.

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