Cane Land abandons River Road location, now plans to distill rum from St. Phillip Street

    After years of delays, Cane Land Distilling Company has abandoned plans to build a rum distillery on River Road and is instead moving forward with its plan at a new location on St. Phillip Street.

    Co-owner Walter Tharp says he and business partner Jim Massey have just signed a lease for a 9,700-square-foot warehouse at 760 St. Phillip St., near the 13th Gate and Interstate 10 overpass. The company—which originally announced its plans in mid-2013, not long after acquiring the River Road property for $140,000—is now tentatively set to start producing rum by January 2016.

    “When we bought the property on River Road, it was soon after that the Water Campus was announced, and if you look at their plans, we are a part of their schematic,” Tharp says. “The Baton Rouge Area Foundation was interested in buying our property.”

    Tharp says the introduction of the Water Campus skewed plans for starting construction on the distillery. Cane Land and BRAF worked together over several months to work out a plan for the neighboring location, Tharp says, adding Cane Land wanted to be “good neighbors.”

    “In addition to exploring a land swap with BRAF, as well as a straight sale of our River Road and Oklahoma Street property, BRAF also considered a built-to-suit in which they would own our land, have a say in the design of the distillery and pay for the construction of the distillery to work in conjunction of the Water Campus,” Tharp says.

    Ultimately, BRAF decided against the arrangement, Tharp says, and he and Massey continued to search for a new location for the distillery. The company had limited options, he says, because of regulations concerning the distilling of alcohol in residential areas.

    But he and Massey were determined to find a location in the middle of Baton Rouge, Tharp says, and that’s when they found the St. Phillip location, which is now being outfitted with the equipment required to turn cane juice or molasses into rum. The machinery is expected to arrive in October. After the initial set up, it takes about eight months to produce rum, Tharp says.

    Part of the benefit of this new location is they don’t need to construct a building, Tharp says, which speeds up the process.

    As for the tract of land on River Road, Tharp says they’ve not yet decided what’s going to become of it.

    “We may or may not keep that piece of property. We have some people that are interested in buying it. It turned out to be a good investment for us. BRAF just didn’t offer enough money,”  Tharp says. “That didn’t work out, but we’ve had lots of suitors.”

    A BRAF spokesman could not be reached for comment as of this afternoon’s deadline.

    —Deanna Narveson

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