Restaurants ready "To-Go" in Downtown Hattiesburg

Restaurants ready "To-Go" in Downtown Hattiesburg

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Restaurants, bars and businesses in an area of downtown Hattiesburg are getting ready for the new "To-Go Cup" ordinance to take effect next week.

The ordinance, creating a recreation and leisure district, was approved by Hattiesburg City Council last month.  It allows "the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages, beer or light wine in certain places" with exceptions for specials events in a boundary approved by the city.

"What we really want to see in downtown is to be that place where you don't just go one place and go home, but you go downtown and you are exploring for an evening," said Andrea Saffle, Director for the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association.

Saffle has been working on the proposal for the ordinance since the House Bill 1223 was signed into law in 2016.  That bill authorized certain municipalities in Mississippi to establish the districts where people could get an alcoholic beverage to-go.

'What we don't want to see is people doing pop-up parties in the street," said Saffle.  "The whole point of this ordinance is to drive sales for teh businesses here, not for people to walk around and drink their beer from home."

"Downtown Hattiesburg is one of the greatest secrets in Hattiesburg," said J Evan Curry, the general manager at The Porter Public House.  "People don't know about it as much, they don't spend as much time coming down here."

"We're really excited about the go cup. It's going to be great for downtown, great for the businesses down here, we're pumped," said Curry.

The same excitement goes for employees at The End Zone, at a new location on Walnut Street.

"I think that's awesome, I can't wait for it to take off around here," said head server Ivey Green. "It will be a lot easier for everyone to enjoy their time downtown."

According to the ordinance, customers can only purchase one alcoholic beverage at a time from a business.  The customer must throw out that drink before entering another approved bar or restaurant with a beer and liquor license.

Saffle said the city will be adding more garbage cans in the areas, to make sure trash doesn't become a problem.  It will also be up to the businesses to "self police" the customers.

"We need to show the police and the city and anyone had concerns about this becoming a new New orleans adn that kind of thing, that this can be done responsibly and it's not going to create more issues," Saffle said.  "That it really is going to create more energy and more vibrancy and more quality of life and all of those things."

"We are going to play it by ear, we are not really expecting people are going to go buck wild with this," Curry said.  "We think people are going to be respectful and understanding of what a great stride this is and they aren't going to want to do anything to rock the boat."

The first recreation and leisure district was established in Gulfport, where the Main Street Gulport Association calls it "The Social District."

"A year in, the impact does make a difference," said Laurie Toups, the director for Main Street Gulfport.  "I think it makes more a difference in the beginning with events that you're having, people have to learn. Even the local people have to learn, oh, we can walk outside with our drinks now."

Curry said he is excited for more community events, something that already brings in business without the ordinance.

"We see a lot of things like with the Lucky Rabbitt, we see an influx of customers," Curry said.  "So we think this is really going to influence that attitude all year, a lot more foot traffic is good for everybody."

Saffle said the ordinance can be revoked by City Council at any time, as well as if Hattiesburg Police say there are more issues.

She said the other cities she spoke to with the ordinance, including Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Long Beach, did not have any incidents with the district in place.

"I've been getting calls for a while about people interested in this building and that building and wanting to come downtown, so we are definitely seeing it is creating an interest int he area," Saffle said.  "Now it's finding the right fit for them."

Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker signed Ordinance 3216 on September 1st at The Thirsty Hippo, another local spot included in the boundary. 

"To have these folks in one place downtown, I really think it's going to be a catalyst for more businesses, more neighborhoods," Barker said.  "I'm looking forward to what this will bring to our city."

Saffle said the boundary established is as large as it will get in the downtown area, due to concerns from police on it extending too far into neighborhoods and homes.  But, Saffle said she could see more districts established in other parts of the city.

The ordinance goes into effect Friday, September 22, 2017.

View Hub City To-Go Cup Ordinance in a full screen map

"We do feel a little responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly and everybody's excited about it," said Curry.  "Hopefully it attracts from new customers and new business."