OWOSSO — A new “social district” in downtown Owosso allowing visitors to consume alcoholic beverages along certain sidewalks and other areas is aimed at boosting COVID-19-restricted restaurants.
During a virtual meeting Tuesday, Owosso City Council members unanimously approved the social district, which is allowed under a state law enacted in July 2020. There was no public comment.
“We see this as an opportunity to reactivate some of the public spaces in our downtown and support our downtown businesses,” said Josh Adams, executive director of Owosso Main Street/Downtown Development Authority, who recommended the move.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented economic disruption worldwide and within our local business community,” Adams wrote in a memo to council. “While nearly all businesses have been negatively impacted, restaurants and bars have been especially hard hit.”
Patrons of participating establishments — currently Niche Bar & Lounge, Lily Pearls Lounge and Roma’s Backdoor — can now carry one open alcoholic beverage, contained in a specially designed 16-ounce plastic cup, outside as long as they stay within a designated “commons area.”
The commons area consists of:
n The sidewalk on Washington Street from Mason Street south to Jerome Street
n The public parking lot known as Main Street Plaza, at Main and Washington
n The sidewalk of Exchange Street from Park Street west to Water Street
n The entire area around the downtown water fountain
n The sidewalk of Comstock Street from Saginaw Street west to Washington
Social district hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Posted signs will indicate the boundaries of the social district. When visitors cross the street, they are asked to carry their cup andnot sip from it until they get back on the sidewalk.
The only beverages allowed are those purchased from participating restaurants.
Owosso Main Street will provide “branded” plastic cups and set up a number of “cup collection stations” enabling visitors to dispose of their cups before wandering into downtown shops.
City ordinances regarding public intoxication and open alcoholic containers outside the commons area still apply.
In July 2020, the Michigan Legislature amended 1998 Public Acts 580 to allow local governments to establish a social district and commons area where patrons of properly permitted, licensed alcohol pr may be outside with a single beverage.
Adams’ memo notes restaurants and bars have been unable to offer indoor dining service at 100 percent capacity for more than 10 months because of COVID-19 restrictions. He said he anticipates restrictions will continue at 50 percent capacity.
This spring and summer, restaurants and bars will no doubt rely on outdoor dining to meet patrons’ health/safety expectations, but the pre-COVID outdoor dining spaces probably won’t be large enough to meet increased demand, he said.
The social district will provide an additional space for patrons to drink alcoholic beverages “while promoting public health and social distancing,” Adams said in the memo.