Waiting for action
Published 4:00 am Friday, September 18, 2015
After being denied a liquor license, the owner of a proposed pub-brewery and entertainment venue in Springhill said he is waiting for community feedback before deciding his next step.
“We are going to wait and see how much the community wants it,” said Chris Dickens, who also owns Sweet Rack Rib Shack in Downtown Troy. “We want it to be about the business. We’re going to be in there and let it be a good, family-oriented place.”
Dickens sought a brew pub liquor license for a restaurant and event venue at the old Cooters store in the Springhill Community. Pike County Commissioners denied his request on Monday, in part based on the opposition of more than a dozen of Springhill residents who attended the meeting.
“We are very disappointed with the decision and with the way we were treated because it was very one-sided,” Dickens said of the meeting. “(The commissioners’) minds were made up when they got there. They turned it down without even questioning what it was or what it could be. They didn’t come meet with us to ask what it was going to be.”
Commissioner Jimmy Barron was the only member to vote in favor of issuing the license. Barron said the only negative feedback he received was one call the night before the meeting.
“I didn’t have a phone call against it until Sunday night,” Barron said. “That was the first time that anyone came to me in opposition about it. It’s not like it’s been a secret. It’s been in the paper and (Dickens) met all the criteria he was supposed to and went through the process he was supposed to.”
Barron said he voted to issue the license because he believes everyone should have a chance to build a business. “I’m a firm believer of giving somebody a chance until they prove me wrong,” Barron said. “I think he deserved a chance to open his business.”
Barron cited other businesses with liquor licenses in that area.
“You’ve got the Dollar General across from the church that sells beer and wine, other establishments sell it and then there is Dirty Earnie’s bar,” Barron said. “We’ve issued all those licenses. I respect the other commissioners’ decisions, but mine was based on giving him a chance.”
Comissioner Joey Jackson voted against the license. “I voted no,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty much how I felt about it.”
Deanna Walker, who lives in the Springhill Community, said her concern stems in part from the many different explanations of what the establishment will be and offer.
“(Dickens) keeps changing and saying different things about what it is going to be,” Walker said. “We really can’t trust what he is saying. The last thing I’ve seen is that it’s going to be a mini Bama Jam, so how can I believe anything he says?”
Kevin Adair a musician from Slapout who has played at Sweet Rack, began a petition on Facebook to support the opening of the venue, describing it as a welcome center and a “mini Bama Jam,” referring to the outdoor concert facility located in Enterprise.
“It could be like a mini Bama Jam,” Adair said. “There could be one night of entertainment with several bands. There is a huge area in the back for stadium seating.”
Dickens said using the term “mini Bama Jam” makes it seem as though there would be floods of people constantly pouring into the are, but that is not his intention.
“Our thought on that is to bring about six concerts or large events a year,” Dickens said. “It’s not a mini Bama Jam. An event could be an Easter egg hunt for kids or a barbecue cook-off.”
Adair’s petition continues to draw attention, even after the license has been denied. “With just that petition, we have heard from the public,” Adair said. “Everything was positive. Not one statement was negative. Everybody wants to do this.”
Dickens said that he visited three Troy University organizations, and within one day more than 400 students signed a petition saying they favored the establishment
“Students are tired of not having anything to do,” Dickens said. “We are trying to do something so this is not a suitcase college. We are not trying to make this a bad place.”
While the petitions show support for the plans, others still oppose it.
“(Springhill) is a small community with families that live there,” Walker said. “We don’t want a bar in our front yard. A family restaurant … is one thing, but a bar is a bar. And that’s not something you want in your front yard.”
Dickens said the community has been calling the establishment a “pub-brewery” because the state license refers to it as a “brew pub.” He said while the venue would offer a brewery atmosphere he would not be brewing beer on site. The beer would be brewed in North Carolina before being shipped to the establishment.
“I know enough about brewing beer, and I know that I don’t have time to brew beer or the inclination,” Dickens said. “I want to provide the brewery atmosphere.”
Dickens said that the restaurant and bar, which would require membership, would require extra security to ensure that the establishment remains a family-oriented business. Dickens said that he also plans to build a playground on site.
“How many honky-tonks have you seen with a kid’s playground?” Dickens said.
Dickens said he is encouraged by the support of the community.
“We are encouraged by the outpouring of the community, people starting their own petitions and the posts on Facebook,” Dickens said. “We invite anyone who has concerns to come speak to us. We just wish (the commissioners) would have come directly to us and asked us about it before making up their opinions.”