‘Serious interest’ seen in downtown complex

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vicksburg’s largest bar and entertainment complex on Washington Street, vacant since November, might soon have a new purchaser and occupant, Vicksburg Main Street Program Chairman Harry Sharp said at a meeting Tuesday morning.

“There is serious interest by a potential buyer in all of those properties,” said Sharp of the complex in the 1400 block that formerly operated as The Ware House.

Neither Sharp nor main street program director Kim Hopkins wanted to discuss specifics of the potential sale in the open meeting due to ongoing negotiations. Both said a new occupant would breathe new life into an area of downtown that was virtually shuttered after The Ware House closed.

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“It would definitely be a boost to downtown and that block if they bought it,” said Hopkins. “It would help everybody downtown.”

Meanwhile, a new bar and a church have sprung up in recent weeks near the complex. The Pour House opened at 614 Clay St. near the Washington Street intersection, in the space formerly occupied by the Blue Room II. Its business license specifies it as a nightclub, which is not permitted according to city ordinances. However, Paul Wright in the zoning department said the nightclub license was granted because The Pour House opened within 60 days of the Blue Room II’s closing, as is permitted by ordinance. The Pour House also is pursuing a resort status designation by the state, which would allow it to serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

The House of Israel Culture Center opened its doors at 1500 Washington St. in early June. Minister Ahmetahee Ben Israel said renovation of the property is ongoing, but weekly worship services, Bible studies and sabbath school sessions are in full swing. Israel said he would not object to a bar reopening nearby in the former Ware House complex.

“If one opened right next door, that wouldn’t bother me so long as they did not disrupt what I was doing,” he said.

Israel lives in Braxton, where the House of Israel Culture Center is headquartered, and travels to Vicksburg for services and meetings.

The Ware House complex represented one of the most significant private investments downtown in the past decade. Owner Robert Ware sank millions of dollars into renovating the complex, which included a 13-room luxury hotel, sports bar, pool hall and lounge. A piano and wine bar was in the works at the time of the closure.

Ware had the four properties in the complex listed for sale for as much as $5 million, but had reduced the asking price to $3.5 million when the doors finally closed. Ware, an Alabama native and California resident before coming to Vicksburg in 2005, left town shortly after the closure — apparently with some mementos of his stay.

“Robert removed carpeting, sinks, some toilets, and just out of meanness, random numbers off some of the rooms,” Sharp said. “All of that was supposed to stay.”

The properties are listed collectively by Varner Real Estate for $1.25 million, said owner and Realtor Jim Hobson, who confirmed a potential purchaser.

“It’s a great opportunity for someone down there, and I think it would be a real boon to the downtown area,” Hobson said.

Deeds to The Ware House properties and three nearby commercial locations Ware also formerly owned in downtown Vicksburg were purchased for $1 million by Britton & Koontz Bank in a foreclosure sale in January.

Not far from downtown in Marcus Bottom, another full-service restaurant serving beer also recently opened near the intersection of Halls Ferry Road and Bowmar Avenue, just around the corner from where Bowmar Bar and Grill opened in January. While the city has routinely denied nightclub applications since tougher restrictions were put into place in 2007, full-service restaurants are allowed to have beer or light wine sales that are “incidental” to food sales. The floor space of the businesses must be split so that 60 percent is for food service.