August 22, 2009 10:48:00 PM
WEST POINT - West Point could soon corner the coveted nightlife market.
The city Board of Selectmen voted unanimously during its July meeting to apply to the Mississippi Tax Commission and the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control for resort status for the downtown district. The initial request for application came from management for the newly renovated Ritz Theater in downtown West Point.
According to Bill Martin, Deputy Chief of the ABC, if the designated city area is granted resort status and West Point does not impose its own limitations on the hours alcohol can be served, there will be no limits. Therefore, alcohol could be served 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"A lot of times, (the ABC) approves what the city wants, but the hours are 24/7 unless (the city) requests the hours be reduced," Martin said.
Licensed establishments under resort status can set their own time limits, as well. Old Waverly Golf Club in Clay County, which has held resort status for nearly 20 years, halts its sale of liquor at 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday, at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Bill Colloredo, general manager for Old Waverly, says the club exercises the freedom to adjust those hours for holidays and special occasions.
Several downtown West Point establishments currently licensed to serve liquor operate within the area designated for resort status. Under ABC guidelines, each of those businesses would be granted resort status and privileges along with the Ritz.
West Point has yet to submit the application for resort status, opting to wait until after a public hearing on the matter Aug. 31 at City Hall.
City officials have stated the public hearing is necessary under state law before the request for resort status can be submitted to the ABC. Martin said a public hearing is not required for consideration, but the city is required to notify the public of the pending submission via local publications.
"The city council has to pass a resolution. Before the tax commission OKs it, (the city) has to show proof of publication," Martin said.
West Point City Administrator Randy Jones said the board still plans to proceed with the public meeting.
"Anything that has some kind of consequences like this does, I think (the board) would err on the side of prudence and want the public to comment," said Jones.
Martin says the ABC is cooperative in granting requests for resort status, but the area must meet certain criteria.
"It has to attract tourists. (The ABC) will send someone to the site to scout and see who''s coming," Martin said.
He says the field representative will look for out-of-county and out-of-state license plates as well as assess the flow of traffic in the designated area.
The city must also provide justification for the request along with the endorsement of civic organizations and assurance from law enforcement agencies that order can and will be maintained in the designated area.
The field agent will submit a written report to the ABC including the above details along with details of any public opposition. If any citizens formally oppose the designation, Martin says the ABC will hold a hearing in Jackson at which opponents will be allowed to state their case.
Martin says resort status is most commonly granted for historical sites or tourist attractions such as casinos. He says the municipality requesting the resort status can limit the affected area to a single building or city block.
Christy Sundbeck, wife of Ritz Theater owner Milton Sundbeck, says resort status will allow the Ritz to better serve West Point in several capacities.
"We are excited to have the opportunity to renovate the Ritz Theater and create a conference center for West Point, the Golden Triangle and surrounding areas. Corporate events, banquets, weddings and other functions would benefit from a resort status, which would allow more flexibility to best serve the community''s needs," Christy Sundbeck said.
West Point Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins says the resort designation will benefit the city via a one percent tourism tax which goes to the city.
Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman says the designation could go even further by attracting new businesses to the resort area.
"I hope it opens up opportunities for other businesses that sell alcohol," said Pittman. "Hopefully more businesses will be interested in coming. It could bring a new tax base in, because we need all the revenue we can get."
Neither Pittman nor Collins have reported any opposition to the resort status from their constituents.