Council to vote on "To-Go Cup" ordinance in Hattiesburg

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - People who visit downtown Hattiesburg may soon be able to enjoy the city with an alcoholic drink in their hand.

City Council will vote on a proposed recreation and leisure district at Tuesday's meeting.  The ordinance will allow "the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages, beer or light wine in certain places" with exceptions for specials events.

In 2016, House Bill 1223 was signed into law, which authorized certain municipalities in the state to establish the districts.  Andrea Saffle with the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association said she has been working on this proposed ordinance since that bill was signed.

"I would say it's overwhelmingly positive support from the business people and residents downtown," Saffle said.  "There are a few people that have concerns, but yes, it's very positive."

Other cities that already have a recreation and leisure district include Gulfport, Biloxi, Laurel and Ocean Springs.

"Really what they have seen is it's created an energy. They're seeing more events that want to take place in that district, they are seeing more businesses that are pursuing those districts," Saffle said.  "This in of itself is not going to suddenly create downtown as the retail establishment of Hattiesburg, but it will take large steps in helping to attract interest in downtown."

If approved, the ordinance will allow people to take a drink from one location, in a can, paper, plastic, Styrofoam or other non-glass container, to walk to another bar, restaurant or event in the established district.  That person, however, cannot bring that drink into another "licensed premise" with the open or closed container.

"You know, they've looked into it and we have several cities already doing that and we are going to take it one step at a time, but I think it's going to be a real boost to downtown," said councilman Carter Carroll.

Approved restaurants and businesses in the proposed district would also have to play a role in what Saffle calls "self-policing."  Each will have to place a trash can, approved for use in the district, at the exit door of the premises.  Saffle said businesses that do not sell liquor do have the right to deny business to someone who is drinking an alcoholic beverage at their location.

"There are a lot of different areas in town that would like to have this, so we tried to narrow down the downtown district with what we wanted that to look like," Saffle said.  "Make sure it's walkable and the businesses throughout that area that can feed off each other and hopefully to grow some more."

There was concern at Monday's agenda setting meeting on the legal boundary that had yet to be submitted.  Carroll said council expects to have that in by the council meeting on Tuesday.  If that is not turned in, the vote will have to be delayed.