New legislation, city ordinance aim to jump start craft distillery businesses in Wilmington

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While Front Street marks the heart of downtown Wilmington, the new WDI-WRAR partnership will eye properties all the way to 16th Street. File photo by Ben Brown.
Wilmington City Council recently adopted a zoning designation to allow for craft distilleries and other artisan food and beverage purveyors to open up shop downtown and throughout the city. Port City Daily file photo.

Spirits are on the rise in Wilmington.

Riding the wake of a recent brewery boon, the Port City could continue to see further expansion of local spirit distilling as recent legislation now allows a distillery to sell its spirits on-site. The City of Wilmington also recently adopted an ordinance to allow distilleries–along with other artisan food and beverage purveyors–to open up shop within city limits.

Alex Posey and Seth Thompson, who hope to bring High Tide Distillery to the Wilmington area, filed the initial land development code amendment with the Wilmington Planning Commission in February. Their amendment allowed distilleries and artisan food and beverage producers to be located within several business zones, including downtown. Two months later it was approved by Wilmington City Council.

“We’re the first ones to go down this road, and it’s been an arduous process” said Posey. “If you look at North Carolina, it’s been an enigma because it’s a control state, and it wasn’t up until a few days ago you couldn’t make retail on what you produce in the distillery.”

On June 19, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law N.C. House Bill 909, which made various changes to the alcoholic beverage commission laws–one of which will allow those with distillery permits to sell their product as retail on the premises of the distillery as long the product is not consumed on the premises.

Posey believes this new legislation will “open up a whole new market.”

“Depending on how many people come in, that’s a whole lot of revenue streams that open up a lot of doors,” he said.

Phil Prete, a member of the City of Wilmington’s Planning Division, introduced the amendment as an ordinance to the City Council in April and again May. According to Prete, the idea of the ordinance is to not only stimulate growth of new businesses in Wilmington, but potentially create a new nichè market that revitalizes older buildings–similar to the recent brewery expansion in the Port City.

Related story: Wilmington City Council approves brewery regulations

“The city needs to get out of their way and make it easier for them to establish these business(es),” Prete said. “There’s a lot of old buildings that are under utilized or vacant or abandoned and they have a lot of character and we’re hoping that we can get them back into use.

“I think the location of distilleries and artisan food and beverage makers will take care of the marketing and be an attraction for visitors.”

As for Posey, when asked what the chances were that he would bring the High Tide Distillery to Wilmington in light of these new changes, he said “110 percent now.”

The approved ordinance is not limited to distilleries and also aims to attract other business making products such as coffee roasting, ice cream, baked goods, confectioneries, other foodstuffs, and any craft beverage manufacturing.