Grand Rapids launching four more social districts

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids continues to expand its social district program, approving four more areas where people may move between bars, restaurants and stores with drinks.

The districts OK’d Tuesday are on Plainfield Avenue in the Creston area, at Fourth and Stocking on the West Side, along Michigan Street NE on either side of Eastern Avenue and on West Leonard Street west of Turner Avenue.

The city already had a large social district covering downtown, one on Wealthy Street SE and recently approved one on West Fulton.

“I’m excited about this for businesses that are restaurants, but I’m also excited for the retailers. I’m excited to watch our business associations work together to make these benefit all these businesses,” said Richard App of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which is helping facilitate the program.

The goal of the social districts is to help bars and restaurants weather coronavirus pandemic capacity restrictions, allowing them to keep serving customers and keep those customers moving between establishments. People can carry alcoholic beverages from one place to another within each of the seven districts. There are also designated seating areas.

“It’s been a godsend and a lifeline to some of these businesses to be able to do these things. When you’re looking at some of the numbers we’ve had where it’s been zero, 25 or 50 percent capacity — it doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out that you can’t operate a business at such a reduced capacity,” App said.

App said the increased foot traffic gives a boost to restaurants and shops.

“It also gets people into our neighborhoods. It also gets that pedestrian traffic that as a business owner, you really want in front of your street,” App said.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss also said she’s looking forward to the social district program expanding.

“As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be lifted, I look forward to a great summer in West Michigan,” Bliss said in a Wednesday statement. “I am excited to see a resurgence of downtown activity as our community enjoys outdoor dining and special events. By extending the boundaries of our refreshment areas and initiating new ones in our neighborhood business districts, we’ve created walkable areas to enjoy as we continue our return to the vibrant city life we had before the pandemic.”

The four newest social districts are expected to be up and running by July.

“These will be around for a bit. I think they’re a great idea. When we birthed these social districts downtown last year, I kind of made the joke and I think we’ve all done it. Maybe we can accept the fact that Grand Rapids is a four-season city now,” App said.

—News 8’s Emily Linnert contributed to this report.

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