Earlier closing time, other issues brought up at Dimples meeting

Published 12:14 am Friday, March 14, 2014

Brumfield pointed out the board of aldermen unanimously voted after a bar shooting in 2011 to draft an ordinance to close city bars at 2 a.m.

Brown read from the minutes of the board meeting during which the resolution was passed on March 8, 2011. Brown noted no such ordinance was ever created.

A couple of weeks after that meeting, then city planner Bob Nix told the board the state tax commission — not the city — had the authority to set the hours of operation for the bars because resort areas are governed by state law.

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Natchez has resort status, meaning bars can stay open 24 hours a day.

Brown said Thursday the city does have the authority to set hours of operations for bars.

City Attorney Hyde Carby declined to comment because he had not had the opportunity to discuss the city’s options with the board of aldermen, but referenced an attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

According to the opinion, in resort areas, state law preempts local law in regards to regulation of the hours and conditions of the sale of alcoholic beverages.

State law says, however, the governing body of any municipality may petition the state tax commission to designate the hours of sale of alcoholic beverages in a resort area.

Marsalis said Dimples is willing to comply with a 2 a.m. closing time, but added the goal is to continue operating at the hours it does now for the sake of profitability.

Marsalis has worked as a “quality control” consultant with several bar owners in Natchez and Jackson to clean up their establishments.

Brown quizzed Marsalis about reports he had received about Dimples, including patrons damaging nearby buildings and sexually themed party at Dimples in January.

Marsalis said he had not received any complaints about damages. The party, which included a lap dance class, was a private booking, Marsalis said. Dimples, Marsalis said, will not host or book parties like that under his management.

Marsalis said he is aware of the reputation Dimples had in the past and has now. He made assurances that Dimples would create an atmosphere that aligns with the city’s aim to create a positive experience for visitors and residents.

“The last thing we want to do is compromise anyone’s business or their way of life,” he said. “My goal is to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the city’s (aims and mission for Natchez),” he said.

Former Dimples owner Ronnie Cox, who owns the Corner Bar, said the problems Dimples has experienced are not unique to Dimples or the current times.

“This has been a battle that I’ve fought ever since I first came to Natchez in 1978,” he said.

Cox said he moved his business, dealt with disrespect from community members and lawsuits while being a club owner in Natchez.

“I don’t think the treatment has always been fair,” he said.

Cox said he has been against a 2 a.m. closing time in the past but recognizes its benefits.

“For the first time, (I think) 2 o’clock maybe is something we have to have to give Eola the break they need,” he said.

Brown thanked the business owners, officials and residents for attending the meeting and said their comments would factor into any decision the city makes in regards to the bars.

“We are going to take this under advisement and see how we’re going to proceed, whether it will be a helping hand or a heavy hand,” Brown said.

“It’s going to have to come from cooperation from the mixed-use environment we have downtown. We’ve got to reach a compromise … that lets everybody operate and enjoy the fruits of their labor.”