Owosso creating downtown social district for people to eat and drink outdoors

Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 7:14 PM EST
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OWOSSO, Mich. (WJRT) - Some communities are trying to help bars and restaurants handle COVID-19 restrictions with a new new outdoor option.

Owosso’s Downtown Development Authority wants to create a so-called “social district.” It would allow people to freely eat and drink alcohol downtown with the goal of increasing foot traffic.

The Owosso City Council approved this proposal earlier in the week and three restaurants already signed up to take part --Niche, Lily Pearl’s Lounge and Roma’s Back Door.

Roma’s Back Door owner Eric Lab said anything that will help bars and restaurants get back on their feet is something he supports.

”You know this has been a terrible year, of course, for all bars and restaurants and the entire economy as well,” Lab said. “But this may allow a little foot traffic in the downtown area to help other local businesses.”

The social district would allow customers of three different restaurants to openly consume alcoholic beverages along certain sidewalks and other permitted areas. Each restaurant will have a specially designed 16-ounce plastic cup that customers can purchase and then drink outside.

The “district” would include certain parts of downtown. There would be appropriate signage indicating the boundaries where drinking is legally allowed.

In July last year, the Michigan Legislature passed a law allowing social districts and common areas to be created where alcohol can be consumed. The hours would be from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Lab sees the social district as an opportunity for business growth, development and creating a more community like atmosphere in downtown Owosso. However there is some concern.

“We would not be able to police where they are if they are drinking, or if they park midway what would stop them from getting in their vehicle with said beverage,” Lab said.

With the Owosso City Council’s approval this week, an application is being sent to the state for approval. If the city receives approval, then all three restaurants signed up so far have to apply for permits individually from state regulators.

The entire process takes two to three months, ending just in time for warmer weather.

The village of Holly started the state application process in January to turn its Battle Alley into a social district. Eight businesses signed up to take part initially.

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