Measure is designed to boost business during pandemic
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – The City Council approved, with one dissention, the establishment of a downtown social district at its Aug. 31 meeting, as presented by Downtown Development Executive Director Joseph Gruber.
Councilman Leonard Sabuda was opposed, with Councilpersons Robert Alderman, Christopher Calvin, Megan Maiani and Donald Schultz voting in favor of the proposal.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” Gruber said. “This isn’t the only strategy that we are trying to come up with to overcome the economic challenges that have been brought upon us due to COVID.”
Gruber said it was part of a larger downtown strategy to get people outside and into a safer environment, to protect the health and safety of patrons, while providing an economic opportunity to the businesses.
The outdoor social district would be year-round, not just during the summer.
Sabuda expressed concern about people drinking outdoors in the business district.
“These people are drinking, and they come in, and they want more beer, liquor or wine, and it creates problems,” he said. “The downtown area is getting trashed, and lawns, and other noise. This is my experience with these things, and I just want to bring them up, and remind some people here that these things can happen under something like this.”
Sabuda asked who would prevent patrons from leaving one establishment serving alcohol and entering another with their same social district cup.
Gruber said the bars and restaurants will be informed of the social district’s rules.
“They will enforce it because they will need to, if they want to participate,” he said. “The police, if needed, can be called to the scene if they see something out of place. They would enforce it just like they would enforce any other rule or any other ordinance regarding public consumption and public intoxication.”
Sabuda expressed concern that the social district will make it easier for people to purchase alcohol for underage adults and minors.
“If that happens, you are going to have young people out there drinking, and no one checking ID,” he said. “It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen.”
Alderman countered by complimenting Gruber for creating a proposal for the downtown area.
“I think you have done a fantastic job putting this together, and it ends at 8 p.m.,” he said. “I think we can sit here, and no matter what the situation, no matter what scenario we play, there are a lot of ‘what ifs,’ and it’s beyond our control. So, we give them the opportunity, and it we have a problem, if we have a big fight, then we shut it down.”
Schultz asked what the city’s liability is within the district, and whether the city would need additional insurance.
Gruber said he has been advised that the city’s existing coverage for similar events is sufficient.
City Attorney William Look said the state gave the city the authority to adopt a downtown social district, and if a bar or restaurant overserves a customer, the city is not responsible for them as they walk through the social district.
Social districts, which were created July 1 when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 5781 into law, permit a local governing body to designate a district to create an area in which businesses may service the public beyond their licensed establishments.
Bars and restaurants with liquor licenses may sell drinks on their premises, to customers who may then drink them within the common outdoor service area of the Social District.
The Downtown Development Authority proposed the creation of a district, with contiguous common areas, which would create an outdoor service area, from east of Third Street, north of Eureka to Oak Street, extending to the businesses along Biddle Avenue.
A map of the proposed district identifies 19 licensed establishments within the area. To see the map, refer to page 11 of the city council agenda packet, available at cms6.revize.com/revize/wyandottemi/Departments/Agenda_Minutes/Council%20Meeting/2019/2020/p200831%20REV.pdf.
The district will operate through the DDA operating expense budget, and Gruber will coordinate the needs of the district with city department heads, licensed establishments and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.
Signage will mark the entry and exit points of the district, which will operate from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with trash cans available for disposal of the designated social district serving cups.
Additional signage will encourage social distancing and safe pandemic practices.
Cleanup and trash disposal responsibility will be shared by the Department of Public Services and local non-profit volunteer organizations. Businesses will be expected to clean up their own sidewalks and parking lots each day.
Moratoriums for the times and dates of the social district permits may occur during city events, such as Third Fridays and street fairs, with the approval of the city council.