BRIDGMAN — The Bridgman City Council approved designating a portion of the downtown area as a social district (pending approval by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission) during its May 3 regular meeting.
Michigan Public Act 124 of allows municipalities to establish social districts that provide for commons areas where two or more contiguous licensed establishments may sell alcoholic beverages in special cups to be taken into the commons areas for consumption.
The Bridgman Social District will be managed by the city through a collaboration with the Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA) and Greater Bridgman Area Chamber and Growth Alliance (CGA).
Patrons of adjacent bars, distilleries, breweries, restaurants, tasting rooms, and similar food service establishments within a social district may purchase alcoholic beverages in specially marked open containers to be taken into the district’s common areas for consumption.
The approved Bridgman Social District consists of Lake Street, between Maple Street and Mathieu Street, and the City’s municipal parking lot. Its commons areas include all sidewalks within the social district, the city’s municipal parking lot, and the courtyard owned by Hoof2Hanger/Sandpiper. Qualified licensees that could potentially participate include China Café; Lake Street Eats; Lazy Ballerina Winery; Tapistry Brewing Company; and Transient Artisan Ales.
“This district will provide these downtown hospitality establishments the flexibility to safely serve customers beyond their current fifty-percent capacity restriction on indoor dining,” Southwest Michigan Regional Chamber President & CEO Arthur Havlicek said. “No longer having to turn these customers away will benefit their business and invariably spur other economic activity throughout the community.”
Havlicek originally presented the concept of a social district in downtown Bridgman to the Corridor Improvement Authority on March 8, 2021.
The city hopes to leverage the inclusion of the municipal parking lot by using it to potentially host live music, open air markets, and other small-scale attractions intended to draw and entertain visitors while they enjoy refreshments from the surrounding establishments. Outside these occasions, the district will operate year-round, seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. under the supervision of the participating establishments and city staff.
The total estimated cost to establish the Social District is $5,500, of which approximately half will be recovered through the sale of cups, stickers and trash receptacles. Establishment costs, as well as ongoing maintenance and operational costs, will be divided between the CIA and CGA (which have agreed to share costs to establish the district, including those associated with operations, maintenance and special events).
The Bridgman Social District logo will be used on cups, signage and decals. Other signage will be used to indicate rules for the district.
During the May 3 meeting, City Manager Juan Ganum said the original proposal had the social district boundaries extending to the intersection of Lake and Church streets.
“After some discussion it was decided that it would be beneficial to shrink the size of the district,” he said.
Ganum said the Bridgman district is smaller than those in cities such as Muskegon or Niles (along with a newly approved social district in St. Joseph), but the intention is the same.
“To help spur economic development and attract folks, particularly to those hospitality businesses – the restaurants and the bars that exist ...downtown, and hopefully have some spin-off to the retail industry.”
Corridor Improvement Authority Chairperson Hannah Anderson said in the short term she believes the Social District will relieve congestion in the downtown area while opening things up for businesses coping with 50-percent capacity.
“It just opens up a lot of opportunities for these businesses, COVID or not.”
Lauren Kniebis of the Lazy Ballerina Winery said their Bridgman tasting room has some outside seating, but she expects having a designated outside area (including the garden next door at The Sandpiper) to help them a great deal during the coming summer and even fall.
Council meter John Bonkoske asked three questions regarding social districts – What are we gaining by this?; How many of the established districts across Michigan are small like Bridgman?; And how are protocols such as preventing people from tailgating in the district overseen?
Havlicek said a major gain is getting around the 50 percent capacity limit and drawing people to the community. He said there are several small communities out of the 45 in Michigan with social districts such as Adrian, Clinton and Vicksburg.
He said state rules required two licensed establishments, noting that Bridgman has three and could get to four if Lake Street Eats re-opens in the summer.
Havlicek said licensees will be in charge of seeing that the rules are followed.
Kniebis said “we are responsible for making sure that people are not over-consuming and making sure they’re following the rules.”
City Council member Stacey Stine said the Social District could help extend the season for local businesses later into the fall and earlier into the spring.
Council member Jan Trapani suggested have everyone get together after Labor Day to evaluate how the Social District is working and get feedback from citizens and businesses.
Ganum said he foresees a pre-social district establishment meeting among the licensees and other establishments within the area being held.
Trapani said business owners will purchase trash cans from the CIA and be responsible for them..
Ultimately the resolution to establish a social district in downtown Bridgman was approved by a 5-0 vote with
Also on May 3, Ganum reported that a bill recently introduced in the State Legislature (House Bill 4722) would if passed allow short-term rentals in any residential district.
He read a portion of the bill as follows: “For the purposes of zoning it is a residential use of property and a permitted use in all residential zones.”
“So that would essentially pre-empt local zoning with regard to short-term rentals,” he said, adding the the bill is being backed by the real estate lobby.
“It’s relevant to the City of Bridgman maybe more than any other local unit of government in the State of Michigan because we have among the most stringent short-term rental restrictions in the state. Six months our minimum short-term rental period,” he said.
City attorney Sara Senica said the bill, if it were to become law, could potentially turn every home in residential neighborhoods into a short-term rental.
“And it doesn’t allow the city to pass any regulations regarding a short-term rental that wouldn’t apply to a single-family home,” she said.
Ganum said the city is currently attempting to get properties that are renting in violation of city rules to comply.
“It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game,” he later said.
The City Council agreed to consider a resolution opposing the bill at its next regular meeting.
House Bill 4722 was introduced by State Rep. Sarah Lightner on April 27 and referred to the Committee on Commerce and Tourism that same day. Listed among the bill’s other 15 sponsors is 78th District State Rep. Brad Paquette. The 79th district State Rep., Pauline Wendzel (who represents Bridgman), was not listed as a sponsor on the www.legislature.mi.gov/ website.
Ganum’s written report to the City Council also included an April 26 letter from Lake Charter Township Board of Trustees in response to the idea of forming a Shoreline Protection Committee that concludes with the following: “Lake Charter Township is not interested in adding another player of government to the current process that is in place. Therefore Lake Charter Township feels that participating in this Shoreline Protection Committee would be a futile endeavor.”
Several council members expressed their disappointment with the township’s decision.
And on May 3 Ganum reported that Mathieu Street, Willard Street and Baldwin Street are slated for surface coating work this year. He added that Lake Street is scheduled to be milled and resurfaced in 2023 from Church to Gast streets.