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Downtown Jackson social district launch was paused due to lack of participation

Posted at 12:29 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 12:29:43-05

JACKSON, Mich. — The Jackson Downtown Development Authority wanted to launch a social district last April, allowing people to grab a drink at a bar or restaurant, take it outside and walk around.

The goal was to bring more people to the area and keep them there longer, according to Executive Director Cory Mays.

“That generates revenue for all of our businesses right at the time especially when restaurants were really struggling with maximum capacities,” he said. “They were struggling to make a living and so the social district really started as a way to say, ‘Hey, we want to encourage people to be down here longer and to provide another service option for you.'”

But only a handful of the 15 bars and restaurants in downtown Jackson signed up, causing the DDA to pause the launch.

“We didn’t want to put it out halfway. We don’t want to open a big social district with not as much participation as we want. We want to be robust. We want to look really great,” Mays said.

Grand River Brewery, Veritas, Nite Lite, Crazy Cowboy and Ogma Brewing Company signed up to participate in the district.

Ogma Brewing Company co-owner Andrew Volk said they are excited to see it take off because he thinks it will expand their customer base.

Ogma Brewing Company

“We have a smaller space,” he said. “Fifty people can fit in there. It would be nice for us to have someone come in and notice that it’s full but still be able to get a drink, take it to go and enjoy it in one of the common spaces in the social district.”

Mays wants to touch base with surrounding businesses to make the case that the social district will work.

“Frankly, maybe the DDA didn’t do as good of a job educating our downtown restaurants and bars about how great the program really is and that’s on us,” he said.

Crazy Cowboy owner Liz Wiginton said she signed up to do it because the pandemic was hurting the service industry.

“It was allowing them to go from one place to the other place while stopping in, checking it out and having a drink,” she said. “Kind of like Las Vegas. You walk into The Crazy Cowboy and think, ‘Hey, they’re really busy but I can get a drink. Let’s go next door and check out this place while we’re waiting for a table or go check out the other place to see if they’re busy.'”

Now, she has a lot of questions about how the social district will be handled.

“Say, you leave here with your drink with alcohol and you venture off down to Grand River Brewery,” she said. “You have a drink there and then you leave and you get in an accident. Who is liable? Is Grand River liable with the last cup? Who is to say that they even got the cup from here and they just got it from there? Or did they go out in the parking lot and fill up their cup with a bottle of vodka themselves and just use our cup?”

Wiginton also has concerns about how it will be enforced.

“Who is really going to be monitoring all around Jackson with a whole bunch of open intoxicants? “ she said. “A lot of minors going around. Yes, you can check inside the places and card them again but who is to say a lot of minors are not going to be walking the streets or pouring it from their vehicle and then trying to get into another place.”

Mays said the signage and rules will be posted and there will be a regular police presence.

The DDA is gathering statistics about visitors coming to the area and how much walking traffic they will get.

“The numbers are better than they ever used to be,” Mays said. “Look at all the infrastructure growth downtown. Look at all the events that are now coming back downtown. This last summer when we could finally have car shows and food truck events, art walks, bright walls and other things that are back.”

Volk believes this will be a win-win for the city and its businesses.

“I think the initial hesitation for some businesses might be just the cost combined with not really understand how it could help their business,” Volk said. “We do understand the benefits of it and want to see it so there’s really nothing that would us back that’s known now at least.”

This is a matter of when the social district will start, not if.

“I envision more people walking around with a drink meeting friends, hanging out and patronizing our bars and restaurants and retail shops, but, down the road from there, I would love to see more outdoor seating,” Mays said.

Restaurants that are interested in selling alcohol in the social district need approval from the department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. It’s $70 for an inspection fee and $250 for a permit fee.

Hours for the social district would be noon to midnight Thursdays and Fridays and 9 a.m to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.

The area will be between Louis Glick Highway, Washington Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Blackstone Street.

Social District map

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1:52 PM, Dec 16, 2020

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