Mayor and distillery brewing up trouble

Old Tombstone High School/Distillery was closed down by the mayor due to illegal renovations.

Arizona Craft Beverage Inc. claims that a stop work order placed on their property by Mayor Dusty Escapule is illegal.

The company leasing the Old Tombstone high school uses the building to make wine and spirits. The company was undergoing renovations that the city claimed were illegal without the proper permits and supervision.

The City of Tombstone Board of Adjustment and Appeals ordered the stop work order in September stating that any changes made to the old high school must be approved and follow all city and county zoning regulations.

Arizona Craft Beverage officials said in a town hall meeting in September that the repairs they made were not complicated and did not require an inspection from the city. Arizona Craft Beverage made electrical, and plumbing repairs as well as installation of their equipment.

The company also claimed that they are exempt from city code since they are an agricultural business exempt from state and federal code.

“We are an agricultural post-harvest production facility and we are exempt by both the state and federal government as an agricultural business,” Director of Arizona Craft Beverages, Garrison Ellam, said at a town hall meeting in September.

The City’s reason for the stop work order was due to unsupervised and potentially dangerous renovations to the old high school.

“These people cut a huge hole in the metal building on the east end of the gymnasium, without any supervision from an engineer,” Escapule said in a public statement. “They also had high voltage wires hanging down and exposed.”

The mayor refused to comment to the Epitaph stating that he had nothing more to say on the matter.

Councilman Armando Villa said that the fight between the distillery and the mayor is overblown by both parties.

“I have seen the hole in the wall and the wires that the mayor is worried and I am not an expert but nothing seemed dangerous to me,” Villa said. “I also don’t understand why the distillery will not work with the city.”

Ellam would not go into specifics of the suits he and his legal team are preparing, but he said the city is in the wrong.

“I can’t go into the specifics of our case because we are still in pending litigation, but the city is just simply wrong on this matter.”

Escapule has also public stated his anger over the companies closing of the old football field and tennis courts for public use. The tennis court and football field are not organized for any public sporting events. The Tombstone high school football team plays on its own field and the tennis team has played at King’s Court in Sierra Vista for a number of years.

Villa said that the issues with the company closing off the field are due to other public events.

“A lot of people in the city were mad cause the tennis courts were going to be used for extra parking and the football field could be used for campout events,” Villa said.

Arizona Craft Beverage leased the old high school from the Tombstone Unified School District. The company promised to allow public use of the football field and tennis courts, but there is nothing in their lease that requires them to do so.

The company’s lease does require any changes to be approved by the owner, but no one in the district has disapproved any of the changes made.

Ellam has agreed to comply with the city’s work stop order until the matter is resolved.

Max Lancaster is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a  service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at

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