Story updated, correction appended.
Brown-Forman to the rescue again.
The Louisville-based global giant announced plans this morning for its own downtown urban-bourbon facility, this one on Whiskey Row. This is a story that will have serious legs as the media looks at the implications for Louisville’s downtown revitalization effort and tourism industry.
Here’s what we know so far:
The plans for the Old Forester facility are in the early stages, said Elizabeth Conway, corporate communications manger for Brown-Forman. Company executives project the urban bourbon attraction will take about two years to create, opening in the fall of 2016.
What may be most notable is the ambitious scale of the proposed operation. All Old Forester production will be transferred to the proposed Whiskey Row facility — which would represent a return to the block for the Louisville-based spirits giant, she said. Brown-Forman had offices in the buildings, operations long ago consolidated to its headquarters at 18th Street and Broadway.
Conway confirmed that Old Forester is “a 100,000-case” brand. That means the Old Fo’ facility would be the first major high-volume brand produced in a Central Business District distillery since the 1800s. Another big difference over existing or planned operations is the Old Forester operation would include a cooperage so visitors could see how oak bourbon barrels are hand constructed.
Brown-Forman is the only spirits company that makes its own barrels, Conway said. Storage for at least four years in new charred oak barrels differentiates bourbon from other whiskeys such as Scotch and Canadian whiskeys.
Conway also confirmed that Brown-Forman has bought both buildings – 117 W. Main and 119 W. Main – from Main Street Revitalization LLC, the group of preservationists who invested at least $7 million in five Whiskey Row structures, acquiring the then-decaying properties from Todd Blue back in 2011.
Those investors include Brown-Forman descendants Christy Brown and Laura Lee Brown, and Laura’s husband, Steve Wilson, according to Conway. The developer is Valle Jones.
IL reported about one year ago that Brown-Forman was shopping for an architect for the project. But Conway said one has not been selected.
The story broke this morning when state and local officials confirmed that Brown-Forman has been approved for tax incentives under the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for up to $900,000 through the Kentucky Business Investment program.
This promises to be a huge boost for the block, which includes a number of restaurants.
“We’ve heard so many things that were supposed to be happening across the street — and we knew something would eventually come to fruition, but now that we know this is going to happen for sure, we’re really excited,” said restaurant developer and owner Tony Palombino, who operates Manny & Merle just across Main Street from the proposed Old Forester facility.
In an interview this morning, Palombino said the distillery is the “perfect plan. Having that thing across the street from us and all the history of Whiskey Row, it’s a great tie in. It’s been called Whiskey Row for a while now, but with the distillery coming there, it now has some credibility.”
He anticipates having an urban bourbon tourist attraction across from his restaurant will boost traffic in an area that is still developing. “We’re still not open on Sundays and Mondays, but our traffic is up 30 percent over last year, and we’ve exceeded our first and second year expectations. The distillery and an Aloft Hotel under construction, and the renovation of Prime Lounge is a lot of activity that will boost all surrounding businesses,” he said.
Palombino noted there’s a picture of Garvin Brown and a bottle of Old Fo’ on the side of the Manny & Merle building:
“Now all that really makes sense. It’s been there for four years. I’d never grasped the tie in until now.”
Editor’s note: IL writer Steve Coomes contributed to this post.
Correction: The first version of this post incorrectly identified the investors behind the two Whiskey Row buildings being developed.