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Patrons of Bella Notte Ristorante enjoy sidewalk dining at a summer event.  JTV file photo.

(April 28. 2021 10:37 AM) Area residents will soon have a new way to support downtown businesses and socialize safely. At their Tuesday, April 27 virtual meeting, the Jackson City Council voted 6 to 1 to create a social district for Downtown Jackson. Once the district begins later this summer, permitted businesses will be able to serve alcoholic beverages to customers, who can enjoy those drinks in the outdoor public spaces of Downtown Jackson. With bars and restaurants significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, this new legislation helps establishments by giving them more space to serve customers and encourages residents to safely return to businesses.

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) worked with City officials to set up the social district’s guidelines. The State of Michigan passed legislation last year that allows local governments to create their own social districts. The district is located in the center of Downtown Jackson, bound by Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Washington Avenue, Blackstone Street, and Louis Glick Highway. In this area, there will be designated common areas where people can distance and enjoy drinks in specially-marked plastic cups provided by downtown establishments.

Businesses wanting to use the district for expanded outdoor seating or serving drinks must have a permit approved by the City Council and State. They are also expected to provide seating for customers, while the City will provide signage, fencing, and police patrolling. Social district hours are currently set for select holidays, Thursdays and Fridays from noon to midnight, and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to midnight.

DDA Executive Director Cory Mays says there has already been a lot of interest from the 15 bars and restaurants located in the district. “We know businesses have been struggling through the shutdowns, and our residents want to get back downtown, so this is something that can help boost business and provide safe visits for our residents,” Mays said.

Sixth Ward Councilmember Will Forgrave voted for the social district. “I’m excited about the social district and getting the ball rolling. It’s good to know we change district guidelines in the future and look for ways we can improve it,” Forgrave said at the meeting.

The City is planning on having the district started later this summer.

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