Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton paid a visit Thursday to the Townsend Planning Commission, seeking site-plan approval for a distillery he and others want to establish in the “Peaceful Side of the Smokies” with an operational hub in Alcoa.

Clayton and others spoke at length with commissioners about putting a distillery at the former Cowboy Tubin location at 8351 state Highway 73 (East Lamar Alexander Parkway). He wants to have the business operational by September or October.

The board Thursday did not approve the distillery’s site plan — which would be an add-on to an already existing building — but it did approve conceptual designs Clayton and his business associates submitted for review.

Clayton was accompanied by former Tennessee Distillers Guild President Kris Tatum, former Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett and Corey Clayton, Kevin Clayton’s nephew, all partners in the distillery venture, according to planning documents.

In response to commissioners’ questions, Clayton explained the main hub of his planned Blount distillery operation will be in Alcoa at the long-abandoned brick mill, once home to ALCOA Inc. operations.

“That will be a great home site for this brand,” he said. “We’ll start construction there next year.”

The “brand” Clayton and his partners are bringing to Townsend and Alcoa is headed by a group calling themselves “Tri Star,” according to planning applications. The company it represents is called “Company Distilling.”

“That will be our main umbrella name, but there will be other brand names underneath that,” Arnett told commissioners, noting alcohols produced by the company may have railroad-oriented themes.

Clayton added that the name “Company” refers to “good company” and “gathering around,” rather than the word’s more corporate association.

To that end, the men added, they want the distillery in Townsend to be family oriented, with the facility serving a dual purpose: alcohol sampling and education.

“We totally tried to design this place around making sure it’s family friendly,” Clayton assured commissioners. “And I know it sounds odd we’d have spirits there, but that is what this new generation is comfortable with. We want people to drink in moderation. We do not want anybody to ever be there intoxicated, impaired to the point they’re not safe.”

While plans show there will be some alcohol production and a kitchen inside the business, the distillery also will include an outdoor area where people can relax, Clayton said. Most production will happen at the Alcoa location.

“I just want to assure you, we’re going to make sure we do this right,” Clayton said. “We love the small-town, hometown feel of Townsend. The last thing we want to do is have people not happy with anything we’re doing.”

The distillery group is set to return to the Townsend Planning Commission in the coming months to seek final approval for the project’s site plan: Commissioners Thursday said there were currently too many contingencies and wanted the plan to be cleaned up before it was completely greenlit.

Regardless, they also expressed approval of the distillery project, enthusiastically welcoming Company Distilling to the city.

This proposed distillery isn’t the only Clayton family-associated project happening in Townsend or Townsend-adjacent land in 2021.

Corey Clayton is managing the establishment of a bike trail on property near Little Arrow Outdoor Resort, while Jay Moore — Kevin Clayton’s brother-in-law — is the new owner of Smoky Mountain River Rat Tubing.

A larger Clayton family-owned company named Salubrious Farms also bought Burger Master, where renovations are underway.

Finally, Clayton during Thursday’s meeting said he was also talking with other parties about building a green-space park in Townsend, noting he may return to local officials with other plans in the near future.

Follow @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter for more from city government reporter Andrew Jones.

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