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Alpena Municipal Council approves social district; July opening possible

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Lisa Slominski, left, and her friend Terri Powers enjoy lunch and a cocktail at Mango’s Tequila Bar in Alpena Monday. The Alpena Municipal Council voted to create a social district that will allow people to purchase alcohol from local bars and restaurants, and consume them on publicly owned property like parks.

ALPENA — Hoping to attract more people into downtown Alpena, and increase foot traffic into local merchants, the Alpena Municipal Council on Monday voted 5-0 to create a social district.

The district will allow people to drink alcohol while outside of restaurants and bars from 11a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

The motion to create the district passed after very little discussion by the council members.

The idea was born from the Alpena Downtown Development Authority after the state passed a law last summer, allowing the districts in hopes they would help bars and restaurants increase business during the COVID-19 pandemic, when indoor dining and drinking wasn’t allowed.

If the state approves the new district, and businesses who are licensed to sell alcohol request and receive permits to participate, the district may open around July.

Bars and restaurants use special cups indicating they are allowed to let customers leave the business with their drinks, and people can’t take them into other businesses that have liquor licenses of their own or if they serve any food or beverage. Stores outside of these criterias, can allow customers in with drinks if the owners and managers choose to.

The DDA did its share of homework and talked to communities that already have social districts established. Executive Director Anne Gentry said a majority of them said they have been successful and helped to lure people into the city and to spend in local businesses.

So far, Gentry said, there are 41 social districts in 25 counties in Michigan.

“There are more municipalities considering it,” Gentry said. “Cheboygan is working on it, but we would be the first in Northeast Michigan if this passes.”

To help people understand where the district’s boundaries are, signage will be erected, and extra trash receptacles will be put in place throughout the district to help prevent an increase in litter. The city can disband the district at any point, if things go south. The law also expires at the end of 2024.

Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett said he supports the move, and hopes people will support the downtown businesses, but do so in a responsible way.

“I’m all for people having a good time, as long as they do it in a safe, responsible, and legal manner,” Jett told The News on May 6.

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