Social district in Hart will allow to-go alcoholic drinks.

July 23, 2021

Social district in Hart will allow to-go alcoholic drinks.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART – Hart will soon become the first Oceana County community to launch a social district, allowing visitors to purchase — and consume — alcoholic drinks from participating bars and restaurants, and walk around to other participating establishments within the district.

Local liquor license holders can apply to the State of Michigan to be members of the social district, explained Hart City Manager Rob Splane. In Hart’s social district, those businesses include Kristie’s Pourhouse, La Probadita and Hart Pizza. “It’s a two- or three-block downtown core,” said Splane. “It allows people to purchase a beverage in an approved social district container and allows them to move about the social district.” 

You can enjoy your drink within the social district limits outside and must dispose of your one-time use cup before visiting another bar or restaurant. Only alcohol purchased from participating restaurants is allowed to be consumed within the designated social district.

Signage will clearly explain the rules and the perimeters of the district, which will not include parking lots. “There will be signage downtown that would list the rules and a social media push,” he said to educate people about it.

“We’re doing design work on how downtown signage will look and how public education will happen,” said Splane. “In talking with other cities, some of the biggest problems they’ve had were a lack of understanding of what can be done and what couldn’t.”

The feedback from the majority of downtown business owners has been positive, he said. “It was a big nod from the business community that they could see it as a potential economic development tool.” 

The district has been approved by city council and the State of Michigan. It takes effect when two liquor license owners apply for participation, he explained. “They independently apply to the state. That’s when we get a full green light to deploy the district.”

It is likely to be launched next year. Liquor license holders pay a yearly fee, so it would likely start in January to coincide with the calendar year.

Spleen said he understands that there is some public concern for people drinking in public. “I think people get the wrong impression of a social district.” He visited nearby communities that have social districts such as Ludington, Muskegon and Grand Rapids and observed the positive impacts. A lot of young families were drawn to the districts, he noticed.

Hart’s social district would run year-round from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Social districts resulted from a legislative decision made last year that allows Michigan liquor licensees to expand their alcohol offerings to-go and expand outdoor seating options as a way to generate revenue amid the past year and a half of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there are more than 40 social districts throughout Michigan.

“I am a little inspired, because there were so many negative things that came out of the pandemic,” said Splane. “It’s kind of neat to see that it effected some change and innovation.”

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