Bar plans to appeal

Published 12:04 am Thursday, October 22, 2015

natchez — A local businessman plans to appeal the decision of the Natchez Planning Commission last week to deny his request to open a Main Street bar.

The planning commission denied Michael Varnado’s request for a special exception to the city’s zoning laws to allow a bar to reopen in the former Dimples Lounge location. Dimples operated for more than 30 years before closing in late 2014.

Dimples was the subject of scrutiny by the City of Natchez and local law enforcement shortly before it closed following complaints about noise, litter, inappropriate private parties and disturbances outside the bar. The state shut down the bar in June 2014 for four weeks for three violations of Mississippi Alcohol and Beverage Control regulations.

Email newsletter signup

Dimples closed in November 2014, building owner Darrell Cox said, after Cox leased the building to prospective business owners. Those business owners did not receive necessary approvals from the city, Cox said, and backed out of the lease.

Varnado said he is now trying to shed the stigma of Dimples’ past and open a “different kind” of bar in its place.

A special exception is required to open the bar because Dimples’ privilege license lapsed following its closure, City Planner Riccardo Giani said.

In the B-3 central business district, in which the Dimples building sits, nightclubs are prohibitthe Dimples building sits, nightclubs and bars are prohibited unless a special exception is granted by the city, Giani said. The development code was updated to require a special exception in January. Existing nightclubs and bars — including Dimples — were grandfathered in under the new code.

The business, Giani said, had a six-month window to renew the license after it lapsed. Since the license was not renewed, Dimples lost its status as a grandfathered-in business in the B-3 zone.

Cox attributes his privilege license lapse and unsuccessful efforts by previous building lessees to open businesses at the Dimples location to them being hassled by the city.

He alleges a pending deal to sell the building that fell through was a plan concocted at least in part by Mayor Butch Brown to cause the eventual lapse of his privilege license so Dimples would lose its grandfather status.

“We have made a tremendous contribution (to the community), bringing national artists in and promoting Main Street … and this is the kind of payback we get,” Cox said.

Brown said he tried to help Cox sell the building and denies any effort on his or the city’s part to obstruct new businesses opening.

“It’s just sour grapes on Mr. Cox’s part, and he is just trying to blame his ineptness on someone else,” Brown said.

Cox and his wife Deidre, who ran Dimples, have said they believe their business has been unfairly villainized and discriminated against because it catered to predominantly black patrons.

“It’s time for the people of Natchez to stop judging,” he said.

At last week’s planning commission meeting, nearby residents and business owners appeared before the commission to voice concerns about a bar opening in the Dimples location.

Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler, who owns The Bank gift shop near Dimples’ former location, voiced her opinion to the commission.

Butler said a nightclub of Dimples’ nature is not conducive to Main Street. Butler said Natchez should be cautious when considering special exceptions going forward.

“You have to be very careful about special exceptions because you’re setting a precedence,” she said. “Natchez is a treasure. It’s not only a treasure for its citizens; it’s a national treasure. Downtown historical areas need to be preserved and developed in a way that tourists feel the wonderful ambience of the community. I don’t see nightclubs happening on Main Street … in a centralized downtown district.”

Andrew’s Tavern and Bowie’s Tavern operate as bars on Main Street and were grandfathered in under the new development code.

With bars already on Main Street, Varnado said he does not believe the city has reasonable cause to prohibit his business. The bar will have live country music, occasionally rock ‘n’ roll, with pool tables.

“It’s just going to be your basic, good old-fashioned bar,” he said. “I just want to leave the past where it is and focus on moving forward. We will provide jobs for people and will be contributing to the tax base of the city and providing a good venue for people to visit.”

If opened, the bar will be renamed, Varnado said. He did not want to disclose the name until plans are final.

Varnado has 30 days from the commission’s meeting last Thursday to appeal the decision. The appeal would go before the Natchez Board of Aldermen.