WARTBURG (WATE) - Morgan County voters are deciding whether to allow a new distillery to open at the historic Brushy Mountain State Prison.
Inmates were moved out more than four years ago.
For this project to go forward, voters would need to pass a special referendum allowing liquor to be distilled in the county.
Wednesday was the first day of early voting on the referendum, which was made possible by 1,100 certified registered voters signing a petition last month to call for the referendum.
The Morgan County Election Commission expects a large number of voters to decide whether or not liquor should be produced in this dry county.
The decision leaves millions of dollars of economic impact on the line.
"It will bring jobs in here, and there is no use in letting that building and that facility deteriorate into nothing," said Petros resident Reece Hunter.
Developers are ready to invest around $6 million into the project at the old prison, which would include a distillery.
The plans could create 500 indirect and direct jobs in the county and could create $8 million a year in payroll.
However, Morgan County is a dry county and many don't want to change.
"I don't think the economic impact is really the issue. I think the issue is this something we don't want our county to be known for, that we have a moonshine distillery," said Paul Frick, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church.
Frick is one several area Baptist church pastors concerned about the effect a potential distillery would have on bringing liquor into the county.
Frick and others against the referendum have spoken out with editorials in the local paper and several anti-referendum signs distributed throughout the county.
"This issue has a moral and religious impact," Frick said.
Brian May, a partner with Brushy Mountain Group, told 6 News the distillery component is being over-scrutinized, since it makes up a small amount of what developers want to do at the old state penitentiary.
The development would also have a campground, RV park, restaurant and horse stable, prison tours, a bed & breakfast and brewery, which would be developed within five years.
Developers say around 122 people would be employed directly at the development, but only around 12 to 18 would work at the distillery, making up around 15 percent of the total projected jobs at the development.
"These people need to look past the liquor part and look at the jobs and what it's going to get for Morgan County," said Morgan County Commissioner Mickey Tucker.
Tucker fears if the referendum is voted down, the old prison may never be developed.
The developer will make a $12,000 donation to the county to recoup the costs for the referendum.
Early voting runs through October 31 and Election Day takes place on November 5.
This isn't the first time Tennessee has planned to put a distillery in a dry county. Moore County is dry and is home to the headquarters and distillery of Jack Daniel's.