Rockford may make popular outdoor social zone permanent

Kent County

The Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area. (March 15, 2021)

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area has been such a popular spot since it opened in December that the city is looking to make it a permanent part of downtown.

Visitors can order food and alcoholic beverages — in approved cups — from restaurants and carry them anywhere in the RORA district, which includes most of the downtown area. One block of Main Street has been closed to traffic and now features picnic tables and fire pits.

The Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area. (March 15, 2021)

The permit was set to expire at the end of the month, but the City Council extended it through June. Rockford City Council Mayor Ed Ross said the next step is making it permanent.

“This is something business owners have been asking for,” Ross said. “Customers have been coming out in huge numbers all winter, so imagine what the spring and summer will be like.”

Ross said RORA has saved at least one downtown business, with a restaurant owner reporting more sales on the first Friday that RORA was open than in the entire month of October. A server at another spot wasn’t sure she would be able to afford Christmas gifts for her family, but suddenly things were busy again and she is back to working full time.

As the weather warms up, the fire pits will be removed and restaurants will be allowed to move tables in the zone to provide outdoor service.

The Rockford Outdoor Refreshment Area. (March 15, 2021)

Ross said the full City Council is expected to vote on making RORA permanent during its April 12 meeting. Public input is welcome.

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