Ann Arbor’s Main Street Area seeks city approval of downtown social district

Program separate from existing downtown street closures

(Photo: Sava's Ann Arbor)

ANN ARBOR – The Main Street Area Association will present a resolution to City Council to establish a social district downtown at its Aug. 16 meeting.

According to the resolution, the “program allows municipalities to designate a common area where license holding establishments may share space to serve alcoholic beverages to patrons, and the patrons may move freely within that space while consuming alcoholic beverages.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 5781 into law on July 1, 2020, granting local governments the ability to authorize these areas within their jurisdictions with a Social District Permit.

Throughout the pandemic, the local downtown districts, Downtown Development Authority and the city have adopted various measures to ease the local economic effects of the pandemic, including:

  • Bagging meters for curbside pickup parking
  • Creating a program to extend patios into street parking spaces
  • Closing downtown streets to allow for social distancing and business expansion
  • Covering sidewalk occupancy permit costs

“The law is designed to provide relief to Michigan’s food service industry, which like so many sectors of the economy has been devastated by the pandemic and continues to face challenges with managing safety, financial stability, and staff shortages,” reads the resolution.

More than 70 local governments in Michigan have since approved social districts. MSAA officials said they have spoken with several leaders of communities with social districts, who reported the program has had a positive impact on their local economies.

Washtenaw County communities that currently have social districts include Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester and Milan.

Other programs include the Ferndale Patio Zone, the Downtown Farmington Syndicate, and social districts in Lansing and Grand Rapids.