WARTBURG (WATE) — Morgan County residents voted Tuesday to allow the distilling of alcohol at the old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
The referendum passed by a 2369 to 1145 margin.
Tuesday's special referendum vote cleared the way for a developer's plans to bring a distillery along with a campground and other attractions to the old Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
Since Tuesday morning, dozens of supporters for the Brushy Mountain project set up a makeshift picnic area near one of the county's voting precincts in an effort to drum up support for the project.
"The area needs this, so hopefully the people will accept it and bring it in," said Mark Tucker, a Petros resident.
Morgan County voters will decide whether liquor can be made in the county in a historic referendum vote.
The vote would allow liquor to be manufactured in the county, but would still prohibit it from being served.
If the referendum passes, customers could buy up to five gallons of alcohol in commemorative bottles, under Tennessee law.
"It could change the course of what happens here in Morgan County, because of the allowing the distillation of spirits and liquor in the county," said Don Edwards, Morgan County Executive.
Developers are ready to invest around $6 million that could create 500 direct and indirect jobs in the county and around $8 million in payroll yearly.
The project's developer, The Brushy Mountain Group, says a distillery is a small component of the project; plans at the old state penitentiary also call for a campground, RV park, horse stables, bed and breakfast and prison tours.
Brian May, one of three partners at BMG, spent Tuesday campaigning for a project he says he will attract tourists and help the economy.
"We're here to take something that is a liability and turn it into an asset for a county that has one of the highest unemployment in the state," May said.
The project has seen its critics; several local Baptist church pastors have voiced their opposition to the project. Anti-liquor signs have appeared throughout the county.
"We are for jobs and for the development of brushy, but just without alcohol. That's our main concern," said Paul Frick, pastor at Liberty Baptist Church.
Many fear if the referendum is voted down, it would be unlikely the state prison would ever see new life.
"We'd hate to see something historically as that sit in rot and ruin, because it's so old," said Wartburg resident Jayson Bunch.
During early voting period, 1,467 Morgan County residents voted.