Saline In The Process Of Reintroducing Pedestrian Zone To Ann Arbor Street

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It was an act an emergency measure on the part of the City of Saline to close a block of Ann Arbor Street, last November, to allow the introduction of portable outdoor heaters to try to save the restaurants that form the core of downtown’s economic engine. But whether or not the city agrees to a request to re-close the block of Ann Arbor Street between Michigan Avenue and Henry Street, and for how long, remains an open question.

“We just want to give them a fighting chance,” Holli Andrews of Saline Main Street told the Saline Times News in an interview by phone, Tuesday.

The Council made no binding vote at their second March meeting. The council will take this matter up again at the April 5 meeting.

Saline Main Street, a non-profit which has tasked itself with helping to maintain a healthy and equitable business downtown environment, is helping advocate this measure on the behalf of businesses. Like virtually every industry, the downtown restaurants that have survived have had to strip down to a skeleton crew staff and are deeply in debt as the Coronavirus pandemic forced Lansing to impose shutdown and reduced capacity ordinances.

But now that there are three vaccines being rolled out, albeit inconsistently, Councilors were hesitant to go with the proposal presented March 15, to extend the shutdown of one of Saline’s busiest intersections all the way to November.

“We are turning the corner” on the pandemic, Councilor Dell’Orco said, who questioned the necessity of the closure at the meeting.

Other councilors echoed Dell’Orco’s interest in helping small businesses with various tax concessions, and perhaps introducing this resolution with a clause for the city to reassess its necessity by mid-summer, perhaps July 1.

“I think that would be reasonable,” City Manager O’Toole said of the idea, Tuesday.

Andrews is advocating for as long of a window for the social district to be open as possible both at the meeting and in her conversation with this newspaper. Andrews said that the length of the plan was essential for the small businesses she is advocating for because “when these guys are so far in arrears, and with an outdoor plan that is highly weather dependent, you need enough time to take advantage of every beautiful day that there is.”

Other councilors called for a traffic study on how closing this block is affecting neighboring, generally smaller streets. The closure also could pose a challenge to school bus routes. Councilors also expressed interest in making sure that any sort of pedestrianized zone was on neutral ground, with there being no area exclusive to any one restaurant or bar.

Andrews said that she was fully in favor of the social district model, the traffic survey. Mayor Brian Marl said that the Saline Police Department will be in charge of that survey, which he is hoping will be done by the next City Council meeting. The city is also preparing to disseminate a community survey to ascertain public opinions on the feasibility of temporarily pedestrianizing this part of Ann Arbor Street, which Marl said would go online by Tuesday at the latest. 

At least one business owner claimed the shutdown is hurting his business, at Monday evening’s public comment section. Another Saline resident raised concern on the city’s liability and the safety of restaurants serving drink in glass on the city street and sidewalks.

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