Downtown redevelopment sparks interest of Georgia’s hottest brewery
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
Craft beer is big business in Georgia. In fact, the industry generated more than $2 billion for the state in 2019, and it continues to grow. Currently, there are approximately 100 craft breweries in Georgia, with some of the most highly regarded brewers operating right here in Cobb County. Soon, the City of Smyrna will have a brewery that residents can call their own, like their neighbors in Marietta, Kennesaw, and Acworth.
The new facility, from Suwanee’s StillFire Brewing, will be located in the heart of downtown Smyrna in a new, two-story, 15,000-square-foot building along Atlanta Road. The brewery is part of a public-private redevelopment project to reinvigorate the downtown area, which hasn’t seen much change in more than 20 years. Other recently approved projects for downtown Smyrna include a new interactive green space replacing the roundabout, a public parking facility, and new pedestrian improvements. Ultimately, the residents will be able to enjoy one continuous, pedestrian friendly area from the Veterans Memorial all the way to the brewery. Together, the city says, these public and private investments will ensure the long-term economic viability of downtown Smyrna and will offer fantastic new amenities for all ages to enjoy.
“When I campaigned a couple of years ago, I went to over 3,000 doors, and one of the things that I heard consistently was, ‘We need to refresh the downtown,’” Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton said. “So, I believe [StillFire Brewing] will become a destination not only for Smyrna residents, but for folks outside the city. I think that you’ll see, as a result of that, new restaurants, new retail and commercial interest come in because they want to be where the people are.
“I see projects like this reinventing who we are as a city,” Mayor Norton continued. “We have not only the downtown redevelopment, but we have plans to totally reimagine South Cobb Drive, particularly between Concord Road and Windy Hill. …I just see a lot of great things happening in the City of Smyrna — in the entire city, not just in the downtown area — but we’re focusing on areas that have been neglected for a long time. And I think Smyrna citizens will benefit a lot from that.”
Of course, as with any municipal redevelopment, the brewery project does have its opponents. The Smyrna City Council held multiple public meetings over an eight-month period to address concerns and to allay fears. Ultimately, the City Council voted in January of this year to approve the sale of .94 acres to StillFire for $600,000. The company will build a $7-million brewery on the site, which will contribute more than $150,000 annually in new tax revenue for the city, county and Cobb County Schools.
“I believe that this is a good step forward for the city. I think it’s going to be an economic development driver,” Mayor Norton said. “I think when you have six of eight elected officials all marching to the same drummer, that says something — when 75 percent of your elected body is moving in one direction.”
Smyrna’s Economic Development Director, Andrea Worthy, said during one public forum on the project that revitalization of the downtown area is the main reason for supporting the StillFire location. Other Cobb cities that have added breweries have seen on average of about 1,000 to 2,000 new visitors per week to their downtown areas. Worthy said a brewery would put the city on the map, attracting people and businesses from all over the metro area to Smyrna. “It’s different than a restaurant, it’s different than a coffee shop,” she said. “It’s really a community gathering place that invites a lot of other visitors to downtown. It serves as a community center where folks can meet up; [it] increases foot traffic for other businesses downtown.”
StillFire’s General Manager, Aaron Bisges echoes that reasoning. “We have seen an enormous economic impact with our Suwanee location, and we believe the same will occur in Smyrna,” he said. “The wonderful part about breweries is that they draw crowds from all over the area, not just within city limits. We will have visitors from Atlanta, Marietta, Kennesaw, Alpharetta, and beyond. This traffic lifts all the businesses within the downtown community. Most patrons who visit stay for several hours and then shop and eat elsewhere within the area.”
Bisges says the new brewery will be more than just a place to get a drink. It will be a destination, a community experience. “While winning twenty national and state awards in our first two years speaks volumes about the quality of our beer — the most award-winning new brewery in Georgia — our primary focus is creating an atmosphere for any and all to enjoy, whether that be families, pet-lovers, neighbors, and friends. We strive to be that ‘third place,’” he said.
The Smyrna location will include a rooftop level overlooking downtown Smyrna. It will feature a biergarten, of course, along with multiple food truck bays, large outdoor patios/firepits, and an exterior service station accessible to the adjacent park that will include a pet-friendly area, playground, and stage for events and live music. “We focus on creating an open, bright, community feel within our taprooms. Indoor/outdoor space is very critical to our model,” Bisges said.
In 2021, StillFire was called “the biggest story of the year” in brewing from PorchDrinking.com, and it has earned dozens of medals in national beer competitions since it opened in 2019. So, how did the company decide to expand into Smyrna? “Ultimately, we wanted to bring that same destination brewery to a new downtown area, and Smyrna certainly fit the bill,” Bisges said. “They have a wonderful downtown that is ripe for expansion, and the proximity to other areas such as The Battery Atlanta, Marietta, and the rest of Cobb County was enticing. We feel like we can bring that little missing piece to Smyrna that will help draw patrons and families to the downtown area. Our new location will be situated amongst some vast greenspace and parks, and the pedestrian aspect was extremely important to us.”
StillFire Brewing is scheduled to break ground on the facility soon, with a planned opening by the summer of 2023. You can learn more about the company and its beers at stillfirebrewing.com.