Thirsty Hippo's fate as music venue in limbo - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Thirsty Hippo's fate as music venue in limbo

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

On downtown Hattiesburg's Mcleod Street a permit to build a parking lot has become a contentious cultural issue.

The land usage permit would give the city's landmark bar - The Thirsty Hippo - enough parking spots to have a capacity of approximately 300, which would enable the owners to use the entire building the owners are currently renovating as a restaurant, bar and music venue.

However if city council does not grant them the permit, venue co-owner Sarah Newton says the music venue part of the deal, would disappear.

"The use permit enables us to open up as a music venue," said Newton. "Without the music aspect of it, all the cultural integrity of what we've set out to do it lost."

The key reason the owners may not be given the permit is that one neighbor in particular does not want a music venue across from his property. Attorney John Lee - who has an office across the street from the Hippo's new location - did not return calls from WDAM for an interview, but via an opposition report to the council, said the venue would mean parking and security problems, congestion, noise and garbage.

In a unanimous decision - which is rare - the Hattiesburg Planning Commission recommended the council grant the permit.

Brad and Sarah Newton will be the owners of the new Thirsty Hippo, which they believe is progress in an area trying to make a comeback.

"Look down the street," said Brad, referring to the bereft-looking strip of road the venue warehouse sits along. "Go look down Mcleod and tell me how we are going to hurt you."

For more than a decade, Brad ran the original Thirsty Hippo, which was located on a quaint swatch of Main Street.

"We love the city," said Sarah. "We've loved it since we moved here. We've put our whole lives into it. We live just a few blocks away from this building, we bought this building and have begun working on it. We attend church a couple blocks away, I work a couple blocks away - our entire life is right here in about a four block radius."

Neighbor of The Thirsty Hippo when it was at its old location and Hattiesburg Downtown Association member Diane Shepherd, says she never had even one problem with the bar.

"No trash in the parking lot, no parking problems, no disruptive behavior or anything like that," said Shepherd, owner of Main Street Books.

"We loved being neighbors to The Thirsty Hippo, we were very sad when they closed," said Anna Yokel, another former neighbor.

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