TABC won’t hear Glen Garden case as purchase moves forward

Scott Nishimura

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has dismissed several protests against a permit for a proposed whiskey distillery at the Glen Garden Country Club in southeast Fort Worth, finding no legal reason to move forward with a formal hearing.

The commission is prepared to issue a permit to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., assuming it closes on purchasing Glen Garden and turns in the existing permit, said Loretta Green, regional licensing supervisor for North Texas in the TABC’s Arlington office, which ran the inquiry into the protests.

The permit issue was one potential obstacle in F&R’s due diligence review of the 100-year-old club. Neighborhood leaders and homeowners have fought the distillery, saying they don’t want it nestled into their neighborhood and near churches, and fear drunken driving incidents, noise, traffic and other nuisances.

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“We were very confident that [TABC] would find nothing unlawful,” given that the neighborhoods’ arguments to the commission were the same as they made in unsuccessfully trying to block a city rezoning of the site this summer that allowed a distillery, Leonard Firestone, one of the Fort Worth distillery’s two principals, said in an interview.

Asked what the status of the F&R’s option is now, Firestone said, “We’re working to a close. We’re now feeling like we’re doing it relatively soon.”

F&R was due to close on the $3 million purchase Oct. 12, but has two 30-day options and is in the middle of the first. The options are connected to a state-required periodic inspection of a 100-year-old earthen dam and cart path that links the golf course’s eighth tee to the fairway on the other side of a scenic lake.

The inspection has found that a tree must be removed, a basin on the dry side of the dam must be cleared of debris, and the dam generally must be cleaned up, C.W. Dowdy, one of Glen Garden’s two owners, said in an interview, characterizing the matter as insignificant. F&R would assume the costs if it purchases the property.

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Firestone declined to discuss the specifics of the F&R contract with Glen Garden’s owners. He said only that F&R continues to work through “typical due diligence issues.”

Asked if F&R has its financing lined up, he said, “Closing on the property is not going to be an issue for our company.”

F&R is continuing to work on its plan for the property. When the City Council approved the rezoning, it also adopted an F&R-submitted drawing as a required site plan that committed F&R to the locations of improvements on the property. City staff, however, say the drawing isn’t acceptable as an official site plan, and F&R must submit a complete site plan before being issued any permits.

Because the drawing did not include any tees, fairways or greens and instead depicted those areas as open space, F&R won’t be obligated to retain any golf holes, staff members say.

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Retention of the club’s storied history – golf legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson caddied there as youth, and a young Sandra Palmer was known to sneak onto the course at night – is another issue that the neighborhood has raised.

Firestone and Troy Robertson, F&R’s other principal, have maintained they may try to retain a few holes around a visitors center they plan to build overlooking the lake, but can’t commit to that.

“We are buying the club for the property, not for the golf,” Firestone said. “We aren’t golf operators.”

If F&R moves to close soon, Firestone said he anticipated that the first phase of building could start next year. Firestone and Robertson said during the rezoning process that they expected to invest $15 million in the property, including building a distillery, visitors center, aging barns and potentially even lodging.

The facility would offer tastings, tours and special event bookings, much like F&R’s popular Near Southside facility in Fort Worth that the company has nearly outgrown. F&R would produce whiskey from both facilities. Retail sales, under state law, would be limited to two bottles per month per adult; the rest would have to be sold through distributors.

Neighborhood leaders are still hoping they can maintain opposition and scare off F&R’s investors.

The golf course was for sale for two years before F&R put their contract down on it, but neighborhood leaders say they weren’t aware the club was for sale and did not have an opportunity to pursue opportunities to maintain it as a golf course.

“We’re still working on what was done two years ago and not looking at other opportunities,” Howard Rattliff Jr., a Glencrest Civic League leader, said in an interview. “This course has kind of been forgotten.”