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New choices brewing in SC cities

​The food truck and craft beer revolutions have arrived. Just ask folks in Rock Hill, where city leaders expected the city’s inaugural Food Truck Friday in Fountain Park to draw about 1,200 people. Between 3,000 and 4,000 showed up last May for the event, catching organizers off guard and causing people to wait in long lines for food from the six or seven trucks, according to Cathy Murphy, Rock Hill’s downtown development manager.

Charleston Caribeean Creole food truck 

The word spread quickly about the wonderful downtown site for the monthly food truck event, and it grew to more than 30 trucks. The lineup of trucks offered a wide variety of international cuisines plus sliders, cheese steaks, pizza and gourmet items, along with craft beers. Food Truck Friday will start again in the spring and run through October, she said.

"People loved to get together with friends for an inexpensive evening out. It became a great event people could walk to," Murphy said. "The diversity of the crowd—young, old, all ethnicities. It was an awesome experience for our community."

A similar success story can be found in North Charleston, home to the most breweries in the state—with more in the planning and development stage. Ryan Johnson, the city’s public relations/economic development director, believes brewery visitors make craft beer the No. 1 tourist attraction in the city.

Coast Brewing, North Charleston 
Coast Brewing, North Charleston

"We soon came to know that they are assets to the community and are a significant contributor to the economy," Johnson said. "It’s an industry that pays more taxes on the dollar than most others and an industry that has seen double digit growth for many, many years with no sign of a slowdown."

The city’s zoning ordinance allowed alcohol manufacturing in light industrial areas. Recently, the city officials changed the regulations to allow brewers to locate in North Charleston’s commercial redevelopment district. Now breweries are looking to locate in the Park Circle neighborhood, a national award-winning, sustainable community.

"We wanted to bring these closer to the population centers so people can walk, ride their bikes. Younger professional folks are drawn to craft beer more than older people, but it’s really a wide swath of people," Johnson said.

Before 2013, South Carolina had only eight breweries. But changes in South Carolina beer laws cleared the way for those wanting to open one. There has been a 200 percent increase in the number of breweries opening, said Brook Bristow, executive director of the S.C. Brewers Guild and a craft beverage industry lawyer in South Carolina.

Now, South Carolina is home to 27 breweries and 13 brewpubs. Last year, craft brewers in South Carolina produced 56,261 barrels of beer—more than 14 million pints. That translates to a large impact on tourism and economic development, Bristow said.

"There are so many stories across the country of how breweries have been the catalyst for the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities. In South Carolina, we’re seeing exactly the same thing," he said. "Beer tourism is real, and the places that are embracing it are really reaping the benefits."

For example, a study by the Brewers Guild in the six months after the passage of the Pint Law in 2013 found that nearly $14 million of new investment had come into the state, he said. An economic forecast by the Guild showed that by 2019, South Carolina will have about 45 breweries that will have created about 700 jobs and have an economic impact of well over $325 million.

"Those numbers are about to be shattered with years to spare," he said. "Breweries are quickly becoming community anchors."

While most of the growth in the craft beer industry is confined to the state’s major cities—Greenville, Charleston and Columbia—he said cities on the next tier are starting to show growth, including Hilton Head/Bluffton, Rock Hill/Fort Mill, Spartanburg and Anderson.

"If what has happened across the country is any indicator, we should start seeing breweries pop up in our smaller metro areas in the near future," said Bristow. "The smallest community that supports a brewery in the state is Travelers Rest, with its population of 4,843. I think that very soon we’ll begin seeing growth in places like Newberry, Georgetown and Gaffney."

In Greenwood, craft beer has found its place downtown. In 2003, city leaders created a master plan aimed at creating an improved sense of place in the center city, City Manager Charlie Barrineau explained. At the time, the city was flooded with office space in the downtown, no residential units, a shuttered hotel, and a lackluster restaurant and nightlife scene.

In a little over a decade, the city council invested more than $20 million in the city center, with the fruits of that work really paying off now.

Part of the success came from people willing to take a risk and invest in downtown. Those included entrepreneurs who—with the help of a small business loan and grants—opened the Mill House restaurant in a part of Uptown Greenwood targeted by the master plan for redevelopment. It was so successful, the owners opened Good Times Brewery this year. They began by pouring at The Mill House and now are permitted as a distributor.

Good Times Brewing, Greenwood 
Good Times Brewing, Greenwood

In October, the owners drove to Cincinnati to purchase an old milk truck they intend to turn into a "beer truck" for street festivals, events and advertising, Barrineau said. Good Times Brewery sits across the street from a city-built $3 million market with an interactive water feature.

Good Times Brewing, Greenwood, SC
Good Times Brewing, Greenwood

"People say ‘there can’t be that many vegetables to sell at a market.’ But it’s more than that," he said.

The investments by the city and entrepreneurs have paid off in a big way. A hotel has just reopened downtown. Condominiums are getting set to open. And a clientele—including a large number of millennials—are finding their way to downtown Greenwood.

"Millennials want to see trees, they want live music, craft beer, coffee," Barrineau said. "It’s about a sense of place. It’s about creating an environment where people want to return downtown."

There is no question that the food truck and craft brewery industries are exploding but that growth and popularity also raise issues for municipal officials. While it’s important to welcome the new types of businesses, it is important for local officials at the same time to be attentive to the needs of traditional storefront business. Cities must consider policies for temporary businesses such as food trucks that cover zoning, permitting, fees and business licenses.

"It needs to be a careful balancing act so it is not perceived by brick-and-mortar
businesses as one is getting an advantage over the other," said Eric Budds, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association.

Like many cities and towns, Greenwood adopted a food truck zoning amendment in 2014. The city now charges an annual permit of $500, requires the trucks to park at least 750 feet from a permanent restaurant, and makes sure the trucks don’t reduce parking spaces of an established restaurant or hamper traffic flow, among other regulations.

"The city council has to keep its finger on the pulse of the community to be sure it’s fair for everybody," said Barrineau.

The Association will have an afternoon session during the 2016 Hometown Legislative Action Day exploring the economic benefit of the emerging food truck and craft brewing industries and how local governments are addressing permitting, licensing and zoning for these new industries.