September 1, 2009 10:34:00 AM
West Point''s plans to apply to the State Tax Commission for resort status for the newly renovated Ritz Theater met little opposition Monday during a public hearing.
Of the approximately 50 citizens in attendance, just five spoke and only two were opposed to the Ritz receiving the resort status and, with it, the ability to sell alcohol on Sundays.
The Rev. Dale Funderburg, pastor of First Baptist Church in West Point, which is located three blocks from the Ritz, expressed concern that Sunday alcohol sales would facilitate drunk driving in an area where four churches are located.
"(The Ritz) is not across the street from where we live. But it is across the street from where we worship," said Funderburg.
Richard South, owner of Coburn Insurance on Main Street in West Point, echoed Funderburg''s concerns about drunk driving, noting that his business had been struck by drivers during past public functions. He did not specify whether the driver in the incident he referred to had been drinking.
South also pointed out that recently dismissed West Point Police Chief Steve Bingham had agreed the resort status would pose no threat to public safety, but Bingham''s replacement may feel differently.
"I would think the board would like to have a new chief in place to get his opinion," said South.
West Point is currently drafting a job description to advertise for the vacant chief position.
In closing, South expressed concern other businesses would follow the Ritz''s example of applying for resort status. This prompted West Point Mayor Scott Ross to clarify that, although an expanded downtown resort area had been proposed, the application now applies only to the Ritz.
Ross also pointed out businesses do not need the city''s approval to apply for resort status, but can apply directly to the State Tax Commission and office of Alcoholic Beverage Control with a public petition containing 100 signatures along with the written support of civic organizations and law enforcement agencies.
Darlene Cox, owner of What''s My Secret, a business several doors down from the Ritz on Commerce Street, spoke in favor of resort status.
"Alcohol is sold all over the U.S. We have to understand that drunk drivers are all over the U.S. We cannot say drunk drivers are going to come in because of the Ritz," said Cox.
Ross interjected again to point out that Sunday beer sales are already allowed in West Point and the resort status wouldn''t extend alcohol sale hours later into the night, but only during Sundays at the Ritz.
"This isn''t going to attract a particularly rowdy crowd," said Ross.
Valeda Carmichael, owner of Culin Arts, located across Commerce Street from the Ritz, said Sunday alcohol sales could increase Sunday traffic on Commerce Street, which would promote visibility for other downtown businesses and could increase sales.
Christy Sundbeck, one of the Ritz''s owners, pointed out the Ritz is only open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays and the alcohol sales would mainly affect the church crowd and the occasional Sunday wedding.
Carmichael agreed that West Point church-goers would take advantage of the opportunity to buy drinks on Sundays.
"I''m a Christian. I go to church. And (after church) now and then I go to Old Waverly and have a bloody mary," said Carmichael.
Old Waverly Golf Club in Clay County has held resort status for decades.
With the public meeting adjourned, Ross said the city should have the resort status filed with the Tax Commission by the end of the week.
He admitted there was less public opposition to the application than he expected.
"Any time you talk about alcohol there are strong differences of opinion, and I understand that. I don''t see how we can turn down a request for a business that has literally invested several million dollars with a first-class establishment. I think it''s a great asset to downtown West Point," said Ross.