Aldermen vote against reopening of downtown Natchez lounge despite pleas at hearing

Published 9:21 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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NATCHEZ — After a public hearing that lasted more than an hour and a half, the Natchez Board of Aldermen in a split vote denied a motion to allow the Truth Lounge to reopen.

Owners of the Truth Lounge — Rickey Banks and David Haywood — appealed an April decision by the city’s planning commission to revoke the business’s special exception to operate a lounge at 719-½ Franklin St. in downtown Natchez. The lounge has been closed since that time.

Ten citizens spoke during the public hearing, nine of them in favor of the Truth Lounge opening for business again.

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Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving moved to overturn the planning commission action and reinstate the Truth Lounge’s special exception to operate. Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier seconded the motion.

Frazier and Bridgewater-Irving voted in favor of the motion. Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith, and Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney voted nay. Ward 5 Alderman Ben Davis was absent from the meeting. Mayor Dan Gibson said Davis was out of town.

Bridgewater-Irving was visibly upset about the vote, challenging aldermen who voted against her motion to explain why. Frazier said the vote will create a divide in the community.

Frazier said Natchez is a tourist town, and in the years he was a police officer, it had a thriving nightlife. He said he did not think the planning commission had the authority to close the Truth Lounge.

“I really couldn’t get why they were closed down. From my understanding, the commission does not have the authority to close bars down. They have to come to the board of aldermen. I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I think we are doing these people a grave disservice by keeping them closed down,” Frazier said. “We don’t want to get into the racial aspect of this. We don’t need to go there. Diversity is the number one thing here. No city is going to survive without diversity. I have talked to my constituents, and they feel that what has been done to these gentlemen is wrong.”

Frazier said the 700 block of Franklin Street historically has been home to bars and nightclubs.

“We are now in the process of revitalizing that area. We are not trying to run anybody out of business. We are trying to bring business into Natchez,” he said.

Bridgewater-Irving said diversity, equity, and inclusion must apply to all downtown businesses.

“We need to come together and meet together to share ideas. All downtown businesses need to come together to develop those relationships, form partnerships, and look out for one another,” she said.

Bridgewater-Irving said Natchez is making progress in moving the city forward.

“I am asking this board to do the right thing. Let’s make this vote tonight,” she said, motioning to reverse the planning commission’s revocation of the special exception for Truth Lounge to operate.

After the motion failed, Hall and Smith supported the city’s police officers.

“I think you were not treated fairly tonight,” Smith said to the officers in attendance at the meeting. Some who spoke at the public hearing portion of the meeting were critical of law enforcement.