March 7, 2012 10:58:34 AM
STARKVILLE -- After months of indecision, a downtown nightspot seems destined for a change in ownership, if not complete closure, unless the Board of Aldermen decide to champion the venue's cause.
Local attorney Daniel Waide, who co-owns State Theatre with Sunny Desai, first approached the Starkville Board of Aldermen in September, asking that they support a resolution to allow the bar and concert venue to extend its operating hours.
Under Starkville's current city ordinance, bars are allowed to serve alcohol until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. In December 2009, the aldermen voted 4-3 to allow Sunday liquor sales from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
But Waide said Tuesday morning that unless the hours are extended, he will continue to lose business to places like Cowbells Sports Grill, which is located in the county and stays open until 3 a.m. He's not sure what will happen next; he's biding his time at the moment, but he said other people are interested in taking ownership, and phone calls to aldermen have been unreturned.
During football season, State Theatre had around 50 patrons at any given moment on game nights. Meanwhile, Cowbells was packed to capacity, Waide said, estimating as many as 800 people at the competing locale.
State Theatre was granted resort status by the state tax commission in the early 1990s, when it was the Statehouse Hotel. The resort status allowed it, and the Hotel Chester, to serve alcohol despite being within 750 feet of a religious facility.
In addition, resort status allows establishments in dry counties, as well as in the city limits, to serve alcohol 24 hours a day -- subject to local governmental entities, which can petition to have areas with resort status still operate by the local alcohol sales rules.
Cowbell's also has resort status, but because of its location in the county, people can begin their evening there and carry the festivities through to the next day, without having to leave their bar stool.
"If you look at some of the weekends where the kids have to pick where they go after a (football) game, they pick the (place) where they can stay till 3 a.m.," he said.
College town or town with a college?
During a recent virtual town hall meeting held on Twitter, an online social network, Starkville residents discussed a wide range of issues, including improving the city's nightlife and growing the downtown area.
Waide has contended, from the beginning of his talks with the board of aldermen, that extending the hours for alcohol sales downtown would help all businesses, not just his own.
"(Starkville) needs to decide if it's a college town or a town with a college," he said. "... In Starkville, we tell people to stop spending money at a certain time, whereas other places, 3 a.m. is kind of early."
But that's not necessarily the general consensus of all downtown business owners, said Austin Shafer, vice president of membership and chamber of commerce at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.
Shafer said on Tuesday that he's heard no complaints about the hours for alcohol sales.
"We haven't heard any problems," he said. "Business owners are happy to stay open Monday through Thursday till (midnight) and Saturday until 1 a.m. No other businesses say they'd like to stay open (longer)."
Waide may be fighting a losing battle unless he can sway the aldermen to his favor. The board would have to make a motion to extend the hours to even vote upon it, and so far, none of the aldermen have made that motion.
Waide said he believes it is "a morality issue" amongst the aldermen. Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins has been critical of the request, saying it would overburden local police and set a precedent for other businesses to make the same request.
If he had his way, he would vote to repeal Sunday alcohol sales, Perkins said back in September.
Waide can still bring his request before the board again, said Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey, but that doesn't mean anything will change. His main concern, he said, is that extended hours would give State Theatre an unfair advantage over other restaurants or bars in town, but he doesn't see Cowbells as having an advantage over others.
"Cowbells, in particular, hasn't been an issue," he said. "It hasn't put other bars out of business. I haven't known of any other bar that has closed as a direct result of Cowbells."
He also doesn't know any other alderman who supports extending the hours for State Theatre.
"I'm not aware of any alderman championing the issue," he said.
If State Theatre changes ownership, it may close briefly, but it would reopen, Waide said. He doesn't know when he will have a definitive answer on the venue's fate.
"Could know for sure tomorrow or a month from now," he said. "... I talked to one of the aldermen six weeks ago and told him what the deal was, and he said he'd get back up with me, but I never heard back from him, and he never returned my calls."
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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