Public boozing spaces in downtown Lansing likely delayed until next summer

City Council must amend city ordinance before launching ‘social districts’ between bars


MONDAY, July 27 — A plan to use alleys and other downtown spaces for to-go cocktails in Lansing will likely be delayed until 2021 after officials realized allowing open intoxicants in public spaces would require a more substantial change to existing city ordinances.

The Lansing City Council charted plans this month to establish three “social districts” that provide added space for outdoor drinking and dining between local bars. But the proposal was delayed before it could come up for a vote tonight and likely won’t resurface at all this year.

“We discovered today that all of the social districts are actually in public spaces, which is prohibited and would require an ordinance change to move forward,” explained Council President Peter Spadafore. “It’s looking like this isn’t going to be a 2020 issue after all.”

State legislation amended this month enables municipalities like Lansing to establish social districts that would allow for “common areas” where two or more licensed bars, distilleries, breweries or restaurants can sell booze in special cups to be consumed outdoors.

The concept was first discussed among Council earlier this month following a brief presentation from Cathleen Edgerly, executive director of Downtown Lansing Inc., and Scott Ellis, executive director of the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association and president of MichiGrain Distillery.

Edgerly said businesses can also split the cost of outdoor entertainment, attracting customers downtown in a more socially distant fashion. Ellis said the idea has been in the works for years, but it can also help with maintaining coronavirus-related mitigation strategies at local bars.

Spadafore said the districts could be finalized by fall in preparation for next summer.

The three specific zones would include:

  • The “Michigan Avenue District” spans almost the entirety of E. Michigan Avenue from Troppo to the Nuthouse and across the Grand River to Moriarty’s and Stober’s Bar.
  • The “Stadium District,” as implied, encompasses the entire Stadium District, including the Lansing Center, Rotary Park, American Fifth Spirits and the former Lansing City Market.
  • The “Washington Square District” includes the east and west sides of Washington Square, extending from the south side of Ottawa Street, bordered by the east side of Capitol Avenue and including the alley behind the 200 block of S. Washington Square.

Spadafore said additional social districts could also be established in Old Town and REO Town, though those would require another separate state application from the city. But first, ordinances that prohibit open alcohol in public spaces would need to be tweaked, and that requires additional bureaucratic loops like a formal resolution, a public hearing and other formalities.

Council members have said they have no intention of broadly lifting ordinances on open intoxicants, only allowing them to be consumed in districts with signage and marked boundaries.

Those proposed districts in Lansing, if eventually approved by the City Council, would remain in effect until January 2022, pending approval from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Councilwoman Carol Wood said local residents and businesses will be notified of any changes. 


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