VICKSBURG — After much fighting with the Vicksburg Board of Alderman, Attitudes, a bar formerly located on U.S. 80 and now located at 1420 Washington Street, will finally reap the same benefits as other places with resort status.
In Vicksburg, that means Attitudes is allowed to be open and serve alcohol 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, and they do not have to serve food.
Owner Robert Smith alleged that he tried to get the issue of resort status for the building he was renting at 1420 Washington Street on the agenda, but that they refused to vote on it.
“The whole process began when the city of Vicksburg decided they wanted to stop me any way,” Smith said. “They manipulated the law.”
Smith had been told that if the city did not vote on the issue, the state would take that as a “no” for resort status. On Aug. 7, the city finally voted not to allow Smith to have resort status for 1420 Washington Street. But that did not stop Smith, who had been in the midst of convincing the police chief, the sheriff’s department, the chamber of commerce, the Vicksburg Women’s Professionals and the Masons to endorse his plea for resort status for some time. He had also been working hard to get people to sign a petition for his resort status.
Smith sent the letters, his petition with 130 names and his application for resort status to the state and on Aug. 2, resort status was approved. A written order was signed Aug. 9.
Brad Wilkinson, senior attorney at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, explained the steps someone must take in order to get resort status for an area or building (resort status may not be granted to an individual).
The first step a person can take is to go to their city council or board of aldermen to request that they recommend a particular piece of property for resort status. If the board or council passes the resolution it goes to the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division. If, however, the board or council is unwilling to pass a resolution for the area, a person may get 100 signatures of people in the affected areas. The petition must then be published in the newspaper.
Dwayne Moak, deputy director of enforcement for the ABC, said the biggest issue cities have with granting resort status is the 24-hour-a-day sale of alcohol.
But there is an avenue that can be taken by the governing body to request that the commission reduce the hours of a resort. In the Reservoir area, the city of Ridgeland officials did just that after they annexed the area.
“A lot of communities do not feel it is safe for people to be able to drink all night,” Moak explained
In addition to the petition or resolution, an application must also be filled out by the person wishing to have his or her property granted resort status.
Afterward, everything must be sent to the ABC and, no matter which way the applicant goes, an investigation is done.
“We send an agent out, talk to businesses and residents in the area, the mayor, the board of aldermen, the police chief,” Wilkinson explained.
The State Tax Commission then votes on whether or not to grant the area resort status, and as long as they have met all the requirements and have determined if the area commonly attracts tourists, has recreational attractions or is historically significant in some way, the application is generally approved.
“Few places have ever been denied because of the way things are now,” Wilkinson said.
Since Vicksburg is a tourist site not only because of its historical significance but also because of the casinos it has, denying Smith resort status would have, in Wilkinson’s words, gotten “into real legal issues.” In fact, there are several buildings on Washington Street alone that have resort status.
“The commission generally likes to do what the cities and counties request, and when we get a request from a city or county, we generally do what we can to honor it,” Wilkinson said. “In this case, there was nothing we could do but grant it and I think they (the board of aldermen) understand it now. I think that’s why they want to get the law changed.”
Vicksburg Mayor Robert M. Walker said much of the reason they wanted to stop Attitudes from getting resort status was because the city is currently trying to revitalize the downtown district.
“We think the law should allow for the city to have some input,” Walker explained. “In reworking that (downtown) area we want very much to have residential apartments in the lofts of these buildings. Would he like to have a bar across the street from where he lived?”
Walker and others are now talking to a legislative delegation to find out what can be done next. “The jury is still out on what kind of operation it (Attitudes) will be,” Walker said.
One Vicksburg resident said Attitudes was a place where numerous 911 calls had been made from and that because of that, it was not wanted for the downtown district.
But when the ABC conducted their investigation, they found, according to Wilkinson, that the 911 calls “didn’t seem to be out of the ordinary.” In fact, a lot of 911 calls made to the premises of the U.S. 80 Attitudes were actually made by the permit holder (Robert Smith) for assistance.
Vicksburg resident Laurence Leyens is trying to help the city with its revitalization project and owns several pieces of property in the Washington Street area, including the building across the street from Attitudes.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to revitalize the downtown,” Leyens said.
He added that it would be difficult to open upscale apartments for the elderly in a building that was across the street from an “historically very loud and boisterous place.”
But Leyens expected Smith would get resort status.
“They’ve already issued resort status to some people on the street,” he said. “(The State Tax Commission) can’t discriminate.”
Like many people in Vicksburg, Leyens is waiting for restrictive zoning.
In the meantime, Smith is simply trying to build his business up again.
“We spent so much time and money,” he said. “I plan on getting involved in a lot of the city meetings. I plan on getting involved in the city and going to all of the council meetings.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.