Saline To Consider Additional Social District

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Saline’s Salty Summer Sounds is the flagship in its whole-of-community effort to help small businesses survive the economic convulsions brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic and has been very successful at bringing people to the southern part of the intersection of Ann Arbor Street and Michigan Avenue. But what about the business north of the intersection?

Helping them is next on the to do list of Saline Main Street’s Holli Andrews. She presented a plan to do just that at the last city council meeting, by creating a “social district” where adults can purchase alcoholic beverages while waiting for a table at one of the family owned restaurants, or while they go shopping at one of the stores.

“We really want to use the social district to move people throughout the downtown, to incentivize them across Michigan Avenue,” Andrews told the council.

Andrews’ proposal is based on similar outfits that have been employed in one form or another around the country, including in neighboring Milan. Milan Main Street’s Jill Tewsley says that their social district has been a big success. According to Tewsley, Milan’s social district is delineated by very clear signage, indicating what is allowed where.

Image Credit: Milan Main Street

When and where the district would be is also a concern. There is no obvious park or square north of Michigan Avenue to base the district around, although the yard in front of the old Saline School has been suggested.

“We actually have a park in our district, but we don’t permit [drinks] to go into that park. We do have a couple of smaller public spaces. One is a road that we have closed several years ago to make a town square,” Tewsley said. “You don’t need a big space to contain all the people that are drinking. … We provide three small gathering places.”

Image Credit: Milan Main Street

Timing is also a concern. Dexter’s special district was in a parking lot next to its downtown restaurants, which raised parking concerns. Parking was less of a concern in 2020, because obviously, there were much fewer people going to the restaurants in person.

But Dexter arranged for its social district to be seasonal, during colder months. It wasn’t much of a problem to put the district in the parking lot last year, but according to Dexter Mayor Shawn Keough, it is yet to be seen if Dexter’s city council will approve of renewing the district at all, or if it is in the same location.

“They just need to talk it through and decide what are their goals are for having the district. In the first year, our goals were pretty obvious: we wanted to make sure our businesses had a chance to earn revenue and there was a place for people to come and be patrons,” Keough said in an interview by phone. “If the social district in their minds helps them accomplish whatever their goals are for their residents or their businesses, then it’s probably worth doing. But they’ve got to answer those questions themselves.”

City Councilor Janet Dillon said that she would reserve judgement until she sees the final presentation at the next city council meeting, July 12. Dillon was concerned with the city’s potential legal liability with the scheme. One accountability Tewsley said Milan is using is beverage containers specific to each business, as a measure to know who got what drink from where and whether they over-served any customer.

Police Chief Jefford Hart told Council that he had consulted other communities through the Michigan Chiefs of Police and recommended that the ordinance include a requirement to stop drinking alcohol by 9:30 p.m. That would give any remaining patrons half an hour to finish their drinks before a end to permitted alcohol use by 10 p.m.

Top Image Credit: City of Saline

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