Social zone switch-up: Grand Rapids removes some outdoor seating

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids is removing some of the outdoor seating that was put up in front of restaurants and bars during the pandemic.

It was a somewhat unexpected move after the city commission voted last month to extend social districts through November of next year.

You may have already noticed the changes along major streets like Ionia Avenue downtown and Bridge Street NW, where the large outdoor seating areas vanished over the weekend. 

“I thought it was really cool in 2020 to see people own (social zones) and have all the gear,” said Edwin Collazo, whose City Built Brewing Company is on Monroe Avenue, though he went on to say, “I don’t know that there will be that much enthusiasm to sit outside when there is so many opportunities to sit inside.”

City Built is one of about a dozen business that will be keeping their social zone seating. Collazo says it has been a big help. Between the additional seating in front of his business and a tent across the street, he has more seating outside than inside.

“And we don’t pay any rent on this side, so that’s really nice. It’s really great for the city to make a way for us,” Collazo said.

About half a dozen other business including Butcher’s Union on Bridge and Grand Rapids Brewing Company on Ionia have already removed barriers blocking seating from traffic. The decision about which zones would stay and which would go was made after conversations between the businesses, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the city.

“In a few cases, people have just told us they didn’t have enough staff to both inside and outside,” said Mark Miller with DGRI.

Outside of Butcher’s Union, the city decided to remove seating areas because of traffic safety. 

“People do love the outdoor seating, they love the activation that happens, but we have to balance that with the other various users,” Miller said.

How long the social zones stick around will depend on how much they are used. 

“What we don’t want is the average citizen going by and seeing, ‘Hey, there is nothing going on here; why is this street closed?'” Miller said.

Many of the social zones that were removed will likely return in the spring. The city is also considering adding additional locations, including outside of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. 

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