Proposed ABC store

ARTIST’S RENDITION of the planned 5,658-square-foot ABC store building in Wilkesboro on town-owned land near the intersection of U.S. 421 and Old Browns Ford Road. This 3D color view was prepared by Leigh Blevins of Boone-based Appalachian Architecture.

Construction of a new Alcoholic Beverage Control store in Wilkesboro on town-owned land near the intersection of U.S. 421 and Old Browns Ford Road is planned for completion next spring or summer.

“We hope for full occupancy in the new building by next spring,” said Bill Bumgarner, Wilkesboro ABC Board chairman, speaking during a Wilkesboro Town Council work session Monday morning.

The ABC store operation that would occupy the new facility is nearby a little farther west in a leased facility at the intersection of U.S. 421 and New Browns Ford Road. The new store site is adjacent to a recently-completed town water tank.

Bumgarner said the new 5,658-square-foot, one-story stick-built structure will have cement board siding, stone pillars, a metal roof, concrete floors and high ceilings with exposed wood beams.

It will have a 3,600-square-foot sales floor, compared to a 2,800-square-foot sales floor in the current store. It will also have 1,700 square feet of warehouse space and 400 square feet of office space, two restrooms and a break room combined.

The new store will have a “right in, right out” entry off eastbound lanes of U.S. 421. It will face southwest toward Old Browns Ford Road rather than U.S. 421, said Bumgarner.

Architectural plans and material lists were distributed to about half a dozen contractors, including three local firms, and the deadline for submitting general contractor bids to the town is Aug. 16.

The cost of the new facility is estimated at $750,000. It would be funded by the Wilkesboro ABC Board, which would lease the new site from the town at market rate for 15 years, then pay off a lease-hold-improvement loan and convey the store to the town and enter into a new lease with the town for both land and building. “(The ABC Board) pays for it, gives it to you, then continues to pay for it,” summarized Noland earlier.

Privatization push

Mayor Mike Inscore asked Assistant Town Manager Bob Urness how Senate Bill 971, which lets grocery stores and other private retailers sell liquor, might impact plans for the new ABC store if it passes.

Urness responded, “It’s our full intention to continue with this plan. But if all this at the state level were to come to fruition, let’s say five years from now, you’re five years into a three-quarters-of-a-million (dollar) note, so you’ve paid it down with $500,000 to $600,000 left on it maybe.”

Sale of assets of the town’s ABC store system would probably cover most of that remaining note, said Urness. The bill was introduced on July 29.

“You’d have a consistent income coming in from the state, and you’d have an estimated million-dollar property on your main retail thoroughfare. I don’t see any cause for us to slow down.”

Inscore asked if the ABC store building could be converted to a satellite police-fire station if necessary. Urness said it could be retrofitted for that purpose.

Town Manager Ken Noland added, “In the long term this thing would be too valuable” for use as a substation.

SB 971, introduced July 29, does away with the government-run liquor stores currently in place. The fewer than 500 ABC stores across the state are all owned by municipalities and managed by local ABC boards such as those in North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro.

If the bill passes, a private retailer will be able to apply for a package store license costing $1,000. At least half of the operation’ retail sales would have to come from alcohol and it couldn’t be within 500 yards of another package store.

Urness said the state would still collect liquor excise taxes but exit the liquor warehousing and delivery business. He said the state would keep 70% of the taxes but distribute 30% back to counties and towns with current ABC systems, essentially paying towns to get out of the business so private retailers could do it.

States and towns would have about three years to liquidate their assets, which would go back to the town. Towns would continue to receive a revenue stream from liquor excise taxes.

“This is the first really legitimate (privatization plan) I’ve heard that would potentially garner municipal and county support,” said Urness. “Most of them prior to (SB 971) gave no consideration to those existing entities.”

The council passed a resolution on Jan. 7 authorizing the Wilkesboro ABC Board to pursue moving the ABC store to the new location in a 3-1 vote. Councilman Gary Johnson cast the dissenting vote and has said he doesn’t think the property is suitable for the ABC store.

Trees have been cleared on the site and on adjoining property owned by Grady Nichols and stakes erected to indicate the store’s footprint.

Noland said the N.C. Department of Transportation stated it would cooperate with the town on approving a landscape plan for the right of way. The latest site plan calls for 22 parking spaces in the store parking lot.

The current store has nearly two years left on its $42,000 annual lease with Wisco Diversified Inc., owned by the estate of J.C. Faw. On Jan. 4, the town filed a public nuisance lawsuit against Faw and his companies over sinkholes and a defective culvert on his properties farther east along U.S. 421 West.

Waterline project update

The new 80-foot-tall, 500,000-gallon town water tower next to the new ABC store site was installed in 2018.

It’s part of the $7.2 million Browns Ford Loop waterline project, which hasn’t been completed due to general contractor Sanford Construction’s inability to drill through rock near Moravian Creek. The drill work was subcontracted out to Florida-based Boremasters Inc.

Noland said Monday that on July 11 he received DOT approval of a new route to connect the town’s raw water plant to the New Browns Ford Loop waterline and tank on the west side of U.S. 421 on River Street. The new route runs roughly parallel to N.C. 268 from the plant past the River Street junction with School Street.

Work is expected to resume next week and the town should have an updated completion schedule in the next several days, he said.

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