Bars, restaurants lose interest in Jackson’s social district after several delays

JACKSON, MI — Jackson’s long-awaited social neighborhood didn’t launch as planned over Memorial Day weekend, and downtown restaurants are starting to lose interest.

The District was scheduled to launch on Friday, May 27, the same day as the first Downtown Cruise-In for 2022. But that didn’t happen because those responsible were tied to other projects, director Cory Mays executive of the Jackson Downtown Development Authority, said.

Related: A few final touches are added, but Jackson’s Social Neighborhood should launch soon

“There are a lot of moving parts in the Social Quarter, and we want to make sure we get it right,” Mays said. “We don’t want to rush.”

A social district allows patrons to legally purchase alcohol and consume it in designated outdoor areas. The Jackson City Council approved the creation of a downtown neighborhood in April 2021, and it was hoped to be operational in the summer of 2021.

However, its launch has been delayed a few times in part due to a lack of restaurant participation, which the restaurants say may be partly due to a lack of communication about the District’s participation and operation.

While business owners said they have been patient about the impending start of the social district, many are frustrated that it is being delayed yet again. This includes Liz Wiginton, owner of The Crazy Cowboy, who said the restaurant will not be participating in the district this year.

“I was kind of interested, but now we’re not,” Wiginton said. “I feel like I don’t have answers to some of my questions.”

In 2021, The Crazy Cowboy, 215 S. Mechanic St., was one of five restaurants and bars that originally accepted and registered to participate in the Social Quarter, out of 15 eligible to enroll.

The others were Ogma Brewery Co., 129 E. Michigan Ave.; Nite Lite, 145 W. Pearl St.; Veritas, 151 W. Michigan Ave., and Grand River Brewery, 117 W. Louis Glick Highway.

Related: 5 Restaurants Join Jackson’s Social District But Still Awaiting State Approval

During the delays, Wiginton said the restaurant has seen success in cocktails and take-out drinks, which the state approved in 2020. That’s more useful than the neighborhood would be, she said. .

Related: Michigan Senate Approves To-Go Cocktails, Outdoor Beverage Districts

“We’re doing so well with it that we don’t want to change it,” Wiginton said. “At that time, people couldn’t eat so much and we were looking to increase our liquor sales. We’re doing fine as we are now, and we’re not the bar we used to be.

Veritas and Ogma Brewing Co. have re-registered and are awaiting city and state approval. While Ogma Brewing Co. is excited to eventually participate, it wants the city to launch the district as soon as possible, co-owner Andrew Volk said.

“We believe a social neighborhood has utility in creating a better connected downtown and is a feature that would help smaller food and beverage establishments like us during busier weekends,” Volk said. . “However, if the city doesn’t follow through this summer, I don’t expect any of the currently listed companies to invest in it in the future.”

Town Bar, 121 E. Cortland St., is interested in the neighborhood but understands why many restaurants are hesitant to join, manager Katti Chivington said.

A lack of information and unanswered questions, such as who could provide the cups, how the district would be run and the costs, prevented Town Bar from signing up the first time around, Chivington said.

“There’s definitely an opportunity for that,” Chivington said. “There just isn’t a lot of communication about it. Many (places) are in the dark and don’t know the plans. They are afraid to get on board and to understand as they go along. It’s one of those things you have to be prepared for. »

But, the DDA is not giving up on the social district just yet and still expects to launch it this year, Mays said.

The DDA will again focus on the project since many summer events have either started, he said. Over the next few weeks, the DDA plans to deliver applications to eligible restaurants and answer questions from some owners, he said.

“We have a few more pieces to put in place,” Mays said. “We have to finish some things on our side. We are a little bogged down by many other projects that were priorities. We need to complete our outreach to our downtown bar and restaurant owners to have all their paperwork filed.

The DDA is ready to print maps, rules and other items to activate the social district, Mays previously said. The group is also ready to provide logo cups to all participating businesses, he said, adding that they only needed the restaurant’s participation.

Mays did not provide an alternate date for the district’s launch. However, he previously said that the DDA had set a goal of eight registered participants to make the district a reality.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement