The Commons Area of the Social District will shut down Greater Mack Avenue to vehicular traffic on some Saturday afternoons and evenings.

The Commons Area of the Social District will shut down Greater Mack Avenue to vehicular traffic on some Saturday afternoons and evenings.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Saturday Social District coming to downtown St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 25, 2021

Map by Jason Clancy

Advertisement

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Residents and visitors to downtown St. Clair Shores will soon be able to have their drinks, and walk with them, too, following the approval of a local social district.

A 2020 law passed by the state of Michigan created the ability for local governments to designate a social district within their jurisdictions, allowing businesses granted a social district Permit to sell alcohol on their premises to customers who can then consume the alcoholic beverage outside of the restaurant but within the commons area of the district.

The commons area is an area within the district, clearly designated and marked by the local government, that is shared by and contiguous to the premises of at least two other qualified licensees. The commons area must be clearly defined and marked with signs, and there must be established hours of operation.

The proposed social district includes three qualified licensees: Copper Hop Brewing Company, Shores Inn Food and Spirits, and The Firehouse Pub. The social district boundary will go from the intersection of Cavalier Drive/9 Mack Drive and Greater Mack Avenue north to Nine Mile Road, with the east boundary from the center of 9 Mack Drive to the west boundary being the center of Cavalier Drive.

Assistant City Manager William Gambill said the city has been meeting with the qualified bar owners, who want to have the social district open for four test dates this summer: July 10 and 24, and Aug. 14 and 28, from 5 p.m. to midnight.

The 9-Mack Merchants Association and St. Clair Shores city officials originally proposed to allow for the social district to be open from 5 p.m. to midnight on the first Saturday of the month, but Mayor Kip Walby suggested an expansion of those dates and times after a public hearing was held at the May 17 City Council meeting.

“We’ve had a couple events down there when we’ve shut down the road, and they have been wildly successful,” Walby said. “Personally, I’m in favor of every Saturday.”

Gambill told City Council the district must have a maintenance and management plan that maintains the commons area in a way that protects the health and safety of the community. Greater Mack Avenue south of Nine Mile Road to Cavalier Drive would be shut down while the district is in operation. He said the district would have its own dedicated website where visitors could find information on when it would be in operation.

“The whole basis of this whole thing is to spur economic growth in the area,” said Councilman Dave Rubello. “I think it’s a step in the right direction of what we’re trying to do down there.”

He made a motion, supported by Councilman Ron Frederick, to establish the social district every Saturday. Initially, he suggested opening the district at 3 p.m. each Saturday, but Councilman Chris Vitale pointed out that since the U.S. Post Office doesn’t close until 3 p.m., that could leave a motorist stranded in the parking lot. The motion was then amended to allow the district each Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight, but the qualified licensees decided they wanted to begin with shorter hours and fewer days.

“Council had passed it with some flexibility, and then it’s been sorting out all the details,” Gambill said June 9. “They want to test out these four dates.”

Greater Mack Avenue will be shut down to vehicular traffic as the commons area during the social district events, and Gambill said Shores Inn and Copper Hop Brewing Company have agreed to have employees set up and take down the barricades at the designated times.

Several residents sent emails to the city in support of the district to be read during the public hearing, saying it’s an “amazing idea and a great way to boost business in the area,” and giving their opinion that such a great idea should be made permanent. Some pointed out that, when sitting outside at Copper Hop Brewing Company, they have seen motorists speeding down Greater Mack Avenue, making illegal U-turns and putting pedestrians at risk, so closing the street seems like a good idea. Commenters said it seemed like the area was developed in the right way to close off traffic “and make a hub of entertainment, food and drinking.”

Councilwoman Candice Rusie said she felt it was disingenuous to vote on a different plan than the one that had been published for the public hearing.

“This is a different concept, not only for St. Clair Shores, but it’s a pretty new concept for the state,” she said. “I’d like to see how it operates.”

As the plan was put forth, the district’s days and times could be changed without another public hearing or a vote of City Council, just at the discretion of the City Manager.

Rusie disagreed with that, as well, stating that she would prefer if City Council maintained its ability to approve or reject “substantive changes over the hours of operations.”

“It doesn’t seem like it would be too onerous to change it later on if it works out,” she said. “I don’t understand why we would be changing that now before we even have one of these events.”

Vitale expressed concern about the safety of pedestrians in the district.

“I’m a little worried that somebody, when this starts up, isn’t aware of when this is closed. When I was in Phoenix ... (there were) a rash of street markets where senior citizens drove through barricades, mowed people down.”

But Frederick said he thought the businesses “deserve the expediency from their government,” and that all businesses would benefit from the social district.

“Those businesses are going to be busier because there’s going to be more people there,” he said. “If you’re doing it every week, then it becomes a destination.

“We’re coming up on a summer where I think people will want to be outside doing stuff. Let’s help our businesses out.”

Gambill said the upcoming social district events will be posted on the city’s website, scsmi.net, so visitors can check when the next social district will occur. He said they hope to have them on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, but there are other upcoming events that could necessitate a change in that schedule, which is why only July and August dates have been set thus far.

“Right now, they’re looking at doing some live music, food trucks, yard games while the street’s closed and (have) partnered with the Cool City Committee (to purchase) some foldable picnic tables, garbage cans and signs,” he said.

Gambill said the law allowing for social districts is in effect until 2024.

“There are going to come completely different concerns with weather,” Vitale said. “I don’t want to obligate anyone to have to do this with a 10-degree (cold) snap for a month.”

Gambill said they hoped to be able to have some sort of winter market in the area around the December holidays and that they hoped the Cool City Committee would coordinate with the 9-Mack Merchants Association on plans.

Rusie and Vitale were the dissenting votes on the motion to establish the social district, which passed 5-2. The first event is set for 5 p.m. to midnight July 10.

Advertisement