DDA drafting ‘social district’ application
By James Hanlon
Leader Staff Writer
The Oxford Downtown Development Authority is working on an application that would allow for the open consumption of alcohol in public places downtown.
This summer, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Michigan House Bill 5781, which allows municipalities to apply for “social district” designations from the state.
The social district would allow patrons to freely move through the common areas in downtown Oxford while carrying and consuming alcoholic beverages. The hope is that it would stimulate sales for restaurants and taverns to help make up lost tourism revenue.
“We’ve had interest with everyone we’ve spoken with in the district with regards to moving forward with this,” DDA Executive Director Glenn Pape told Oxford Village Council at its Sept. 8 meeting.
The social district would not merely be a pandemic related modification. It would be a somewhat permanent change, up for state review again in 2024, according to Pape.
The DDA is still working out the details, but Pape plans to present a proposal package at the Oct. 13 village council meeting. At that point, the council should vote on a resolution to apply for a social district permit from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.
The social district would essentially comprise the four core blocks of downtown within the DDA boundaries. Technically, the DDA is proposing two separate social districts (an east district and a west district), since a social district cannot cross a state highway. M-24 (Washington St.) cuts straight through the proposed district area.
Each licensed business must sell the open-carry beverages in clearly marked containers bearing the business’s logo. The containers also need to have a logo of the social district.
Pape says the DDA is working on logo design now. “We are looking at supplying this as a sticker to the licensed retailors within our downtown district,” he said.
Another issue is that a village ordinance prohibits open alcohol in Centennial Park, a central area in downtown. Sec. 46-5 of the Code of Ordinances states, “Alcoholic beverages are expressly prohibited from being on the grounds of any parklands of the village. No person shall be in possession of any containers, bottles, cans, or beverages containing alcohol.”
Village Manager Joe Madore said if council wanted to allow alcohol in the park, they could have the social district approved for the entire area including the park, but the park itself would be off limits until council passed an amendment to the ordinance.
“I think this is a great idea,” Village President Joe Frost said of the social district in general. “This is a new thing this summer and it seems to have worked in those communities that are moving in that direction. This coupled with the road construction being completed and the improvements there, a public space for outside seating outside the traditional brick and mortar walls of an establishment, I think could make for a really robust social district.”
Frost, who recently submitted a letter of resignation from the village council, also sat on the DDA board as village president. Frost’s resignation went into effect at the end of the Sept. 8 council meeting, just after his comments.