A proposed social district for downtown Farmington would stretch from Loft Cigar Lounge to Sidecar Slider Bar, with Riley Park as its anchor, for a total of 74,250 square feet.

A proposed social district for downtown Farmington would stretch from Loft Cigar Lounge to Sidecar Slider Bar, with Riley Park as its anchor, for a total of 74,250 square feet.

Image provided by the city of Farmington


Farmington City Council adopts new social district for downtown

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published October 26, 2020

 Patrons gather in Riley Park at the Sundquist Pavilion to enjoy a sense of community outdoors.

Patrons gather in Riley Park at the Sundquist Pavilion to enjoy a sense of community outdoors.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FARMINGTON — Residents and visitors will soon be able to enjoy carryout cocktails, food and beverages to go under a newly approved social district in downtown Farmington.

Council members unanimously approved the social district ordinance amendment Oct. 19, during its second reading.

The city began to think about a social district last summer but opted not to pursue it then, given prohibitive state regulations and a downtown physical footprint that Kate Knight, Downtown Development Authority executive director, felt didn’t lend itself to one.

Since then, state legislation and Michigan Liquor Control Commission regulations have changed. Observing that social districts in peer downtowns, like Lake Orion and Northville, were thriving, Knight became motivated to give the concept a second thought.

“It’s a terrific way to interact with the public in the street, and we’ve certainly been investing in improving and expanding our public space. This is just another layer of community that we can bring to it,” Knight said, adding that learning from those peer downtowns has benefited their approach.

Patrons will now be able to enjoy carryout items from participating merchants within the social district boundaries — which includes Riley Park as its anchor and stretches along the sidewalks and select alleyways from Sidecar Slider Bar to Loft Cigar Lounge — from noon-10 p.m. The district is 74,250 square feet in total. Knight hopes to have the district established by Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28. The district will expire four years after implementation.

State regulations require at least two license holders contiguous to the district to establish it. Basement Burger Bar, Farmington Brewing Co., Sidecar Slider Bar and MiMosa have already verbally committed to participating, Knight said, and five to seven other businesses have shown “pretty strong interest,” she said.

Participating merchants must also serve carryout beverages, including alcohol, in specially marked cups demarcated with the establishment’s name and the name of the social district, a detail Knight said is forthcoming.

Patrons will not be allowed by law to bring their own alcohol. The district will only relax the open intoxication portion of the current ordinance, City Attorney Thomas Schultz explained.

“It offers (businesses) another point of revenue,” Knight said of the motivation to establish the district. “We have several licensees who already have a carryout cocktail permit, and they report that it’s going well. … It gives (patrons) a way to support those businesses. It would have been a nice feature to have, had we known we were going into this pandemic season, but I think it’s a really effective innovation that will benefit restaurants, consumers and the future.”

Knight acknowledged that the district will rely heavily on patron compliance to the rules, but she believes most users will abide by them.

“Everyone involved has a lot at stake, and those are normal servings. It’s not like you would be dispensed a jug of wine,” she said. “I guess there are always ways to buck the rules, but we make the assumption, and that’s been our observation in other social districts … that folks are generally willing and able to do the right thing.”

The city’s Public Safety Department does intend to increase its visibility and attention downtown, Director Frank Demers said, but also expects to see an atmosphere of compliance.

“I’m going by what other chiefs have told me, and they have not seen an increase in drunk driving, disorderly intoxicated or any other alcohol-related offenses as a result of a social district,” Demers said, adding that proper signage, demarcation and education will be critical. “Based on that, I don’t expect there will be (problems here).”

In Michigan, there are currently 17 municipalities with a social district, Demers said, adding that those he spoke with that are most similar to Farmington have had zero arrests, zero tickets issued and zero problems.

While council members expressed some concerns — like enforcement, excess trash, the city’s liability and maintaining a family-friendly atmosphere — overall, they supported the district.

“We think there’s enough open air and public space for people who want to come down and enjoy downtown Farmington,” Knight said. “We are optimistic about the blend of families, seniors and singles. People have to experience public space of their own time, and with their own preference in supporting the businesses they like.”

Additional trash and recycling receptacles are being looked into, as well, Knight added. Schultz believes approving the social district wouldn’t make the city any more liable.

While the district map, plan and set of rules will still need to be approved by council members at a later meeting, Knight remains optimistic about the district’s potential.

“I think what has not gone away is interest in people and community, and seeing each other. If we can think creatively about how to facilitate that, such as sharing these public spaces and building and investing to increase the use of those shared spaces, I think we’ll see downtown in particular thrive,” she said.

For more information, visit farmgov.com.

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