Majority of Reed City residents approve of social district

Council set to develop more detailed plan

The Reed City city council hosted a special meeting June 8 to hear the public's thoughts regarding the establishment of a social district in the downtown area. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

The Reed City city council hosted a special meeting June 8 to hear the public's thoughts regarding the establishment of a social district in the downtown area. (Herald Review photo/Cathie Crew)

REED CITY — Reed City needs to grow as a community, residents and business owners said at a recent town hall meeting, and to do that, establishing a social district would be a beneficial start.

The Reed City city council hosted a special meeting June 8 to hear the public’s thoughts regarding the establishment of a social district in the downtown area.

Overwhelmingly, the public response was in favor of moving forward with the proposal.

Several local business owners told the council it would be good for the city and it would bring more visitors to the downtown area and promote local business.

Deanna Murphy, of Reed City Brewing Company, said they were in support of the social district because the city needs to grow.

“We have the potential, we need to take it to the next level,” Murphy said. “Fifty percent of our business is out-of-towners, and we have people asking what they can do in town. We need to have more events.”

“We need to bring people in, and we need to keep them here and have them spend money,” she continued. “The only way we are going to be able to do that is to open things up. If we can have this (the social district) in our back pocket, and I think it would be beneficial.”

Chamber member and owner of Pere Marquette Bistro, Deb Ahlich-Remus agreed. She said the city needs to grow and the social district would be a way of helping make that happen.

“I support this because I think anything we can do to bring additional people, to bring more business, to the city is a good thing,” Ahlich-Remus said. “The trail is a great draw to this community. The Depot is a great draw. I have been part of the Crossroads Celebration since 1990, and it brings a lot of people to town, but we need to grow.”

Even though she does not have a liquor license, she would support having the social district to bring people into town, she added.

Jesse Kailing, owner of Sunny’s Bar and Grill, said he was more concerned about bringing people into the city than any potential negative impacts of the social district.

“I am not concern about a lot of craziness on the sidewalks,” Kailing said. “As business owners, we are going to be responsible for policing the people that are getting drinks, no different than anyone having too many inside the establishment.

“I am more concerned about bringing more people to the city,” he continued. “I believe if we open up the streets to socializing, people will come and bring more business into downtown. The social district could open up opportunities to have events that could benefit other businesses and not just the bars.”

The board of directors of the Reed City Chamber of Commerce threw their support behind the effort, as well.

“On behalf of the board, I want to say we are in support of this,” board member Tricia Worth said. “I think there is more development that needs to be done, but the initial start is to get approved by the state.”

“If we get it approved at the larger scale, the city will have the control to bring it down to a smaller scale, so let’s fine tune it and make it work,” she added.

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

Other residents also spoke in favor of the social district, saying it was an important step in promoting growth of the city.

Resident Stew Thompson said he was in support of the social district because in traveling to numerous other social districts in the state he had seen only good things happening.

“There seems to be the misconception that this is just an outdoor party,” Thompson said. “It is not. It is extended outdoor seating and the ability to take a drink from one area to another because the sidewalks are open to that.

“Right now, with our pre-prohibition open container laws, I can buy a soda and food at Reed City Brewing and walk down the street to sit down and eat it with no issues, but if I buy a beer and food, I can’t. That seems a little absurd as a grown adult not having the freedom to do that. This social district addresses that issue.”

Thompson went on to say the key to addressing the COVID-19 issue of decreased capacity was allowing patrons a safe outdoor area to eat and drink, which allowed many businesses to regain lost income.

“The patrons have shown that they like that outdoor atmosphere,” he continued. “They like that freedom of movement to enjoy their food, beverages and family.

Many of the concerns people have, he added, are addressed by city ordinances that are already on the books.

“If you are worried about drunks, we have the public intoxication ordinance,” Thompson said. “If you are worried about rowdiness, we have the nuisance ordinance. ... There are plenty of ordinances that address poor behavior, so I don’t see how having or not having the social district would impact that.”

Trinity Lutheran School principal, Rich Saladin said he also supported the social district and the opportunity it represents.

“I think this a tool we can provide to businesses,” Saladin said. “They may not want anything to do with it and that is their choice, but by establishing it, you have a tool to use to create programs that can help this community grow. We need to get out of the way and let businesses do what they do, and maybe more storefronts will open up as people see that there is a lot of foot traffic downtown.

“This is about social interaction, about talking to our neighbors, about building those relationships,” he continued. “That is what this promotes.”

FUNDING CONCERNS

Not all in attendance were in favor of the proposal, however.

Lyndsey Eccles Burchette told the council she understood the purpose of establishing the social district was to promote tourism, but she did not see that happening.

“The only public draw I see is the ability to drink open alcohol on the sidewalk legally,” she said. “This is not likely to bring any outside tourists, only those that already frequent the bars.”

Burchette also expressed concerns that the needed funding would be coming from taxpayer monies.

“Other cities that have done this have relied heavily on financial support from the Chamber of Commerce or the Downtown Development Association,” she said.

“Reed City does not have a DDA and the Chamber is not going to be able to help fund much, so where are the required funds going to come from?” she asked. “As a taxpayer, I am not OK with the project being financed from the general fund of taxpayer revenue. If that is the case, then taxpayers will be subsidizing alcohol establishments, since they are the ones that are going to profit from the social district.”

Rotary Club member Brad Doornsbos said they have already given away $15,000 to local businesses this year and will continue to support them when they can.

“We care a great deal about this community, and if you are not growing you are dying,” Doornbos said. “In this community, we are not growing.”

“I do believe this would increase the foot traffic, not only from those that live here, but friends and family from outlying communities would now have a desire to come in, and suddenly, these storefronts that are empty, they may start thinking they can fill them because now there is more foot traffic,” he added.

AN ALTERNATE PROPOSAL

Reed City school board member Nate Vanderhoof said he did not condemn the social district in general, but agreed it needed further thought and development in order to meet the needs of Reed City.

“Community development is a combination of economic development, infrastructure, schools and business development,” Vanderhoof said. “It takes all of these to complete the puzzle of community development. One alone is not a solution.”

He went on to say that when members of the council make decisions, they must be able to identify how those decisions benefit the community in each of the four categories.

“I ask the city council to tell the community how the social district addresses all four of these categories,” he said. “How will it benefit economic development, support infrastructure, benefit schools or promote business development? The proposed social district cannot, in its current form, answer the questions necessary for whole community development.”

Vanderhoof proposed an alternative plan of closing Upton Avenue from 5 p.m. Friday until noon Sunday and letting the local restaurants that want to participate set up outdoor seating for dining.

“This would not cost the city anything,” he said. “You are utilizing space already available. It promotes a family friendly atmosphere and it increases capacity for restaurants and bars.”

“This example can answer, in a positive way, the questions that council should be answering with every decision they make,” he added.

Some in attendance expressed concern about shutting down Upton Avenue for an extended period and reducing available parking downtown.

Mayor Roger Meinert explained the proposal for the social district did not include shutting down Upton Avenue for the district as a whole.

“That is a misconception,” he said. “There may be events that require us to shut down Upton Avenue, but that would be maybe once or twice a month. Upton Avenue will remain open unless there is a special event or activity.”

The proposed social district would include Upton Avenue from Chestnut Street to the U.S. Post Office; extending to the Pere Marquette Trail on the north end, between Higbee Street and Chestnut Street; across Chestnut to the Reed City Depot area; and south to W. Slosson Avenue between Higbee Street and Chestnut Street.

Meinert added the proposal also included limited dates and times as a trial basis, that if successful, could be extended.

“The consensus was that it would be from 5 to 11 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, and would run from Memorial Day through Labor Day,” Meinert said. “At this point, it is the second week of June and we haven’t applied yet, so in reality, we are several months away from this happening this year.”

Reed City police chief Chris Lockhart explained the reason they had decided on the limited dates and times was because he felt that was the police department would be best able to manage.

“I don’t disagree that this will be beneficial for bringing more people to the area,” Lockhart said. “If you look at the law, it indicates that the local governing body enacting the social district is responsible for maintaining the health and safety of the district. If it is going to be enacted, we need to be responsible to our community and our visitors to make sure they are properly policed.”

Meinert said the next step would be for the city council to develop a more detailed plan and approve a motion for the social district that gives a more defined date range and hours of operation.

Once completed, they will apply to the state for permitting.

The council is scheduled to meet for its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, June 21.