Outdoor drinking area approved for downtown Three Rivers

Members of the Three Rivers City Commission on Tuesday approved a new “Main Street Commons” district in downtown Three Rivers. The vote allows next steps to move forward for a proposed, designated section of downtown Three Rivers, in which outdoor consumption of alcoholic beverages would be permitted. Such districts are possible under recent, new rules authorized by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC).

These rules, which are to be in effect for five years at the state level, are meant to provide businesses more service options amid pandemic-related restrictions on indoor occupancy. They were created under joint coordination by the MLCC and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), which oversees the Michigan Main Street program. The city commission approval allows a permit application for the district by TRDDA for the district to move forward at MLCC.

Consumption of alcoholic beverages would only be permitted within the district’s boundaries, and beverages would have to remain in marked containers from specific businesses with valid liquor licenses that have signed on to the district. Outside beverages would not be permitted. Businesses included in the district application are Kelsey Block Brewing Company, Landmark Taphouse and Grille, and the Riviera Theatre Bar.

The district boundaries coincide roughly with a substantial part the downtown historic district and encompass most of the first block of Main Street north of Michigan Avenue, both of the downtown walk-throughs, and parts of Joshua and Railroad Drives and adjacent parking areas. Hours for the district will be restricted.

Liability and enforcement are to be the joint responsibility of the businesses included in the district’s permit, the Three Rivers Police Department (TRPD), the Three Rivers Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Program (TRDDA), and the City of Three Rivers. Tricia Meyer, Executive Director of the TRDDA, said she has met with City Manager Joe Bippus, TRPD Chief Tom Bringman, and Det. Sgt. Sam Smallcombe to work out logistics for ensuring compliance with the district’s boundaries and all applicable rules and laws.

Meyer said the outdoor district program has already been successfully implemented by a number of other communities around the state. It permits drinking establishments operating at 25 percent occupancy under pandemic restrictions to take advantage of outdoor space and serve more patrons during weather that permits it.

Last year, a similar but much smaller outdoor “social district” drinking area, called “East Patio Commons,” was approved for Venue 45 and the Kelsey Block Brewing Company, adjacent to the Joshua Drive parking lot. However, certain COVID-19 compliance forms required under that authorization were subsequently nullified by the Michigan Supreme Court, this invalidating any district permits that required such forms.

Mayor Tom Lowry said because the expanded district means there is no longer line of sight to some areas, which means there will be pressure to ensure activity in the district “happens cleanly and correctly.” Lowry said he is still in favor of supporting the district, but said, “there might be a challenge.” Meyer said there is video surveillance of both downtown walk-throughs, in addition to other security measures already in place. Lowry also observed that “individuals can be prosecuted for illegal behavior” that violates the rules and laws associated with the district.

Also in City Commission business:

  • Commissioners authorized the sale of a 14.2 acre parcel of city-owned land at the Airport Industrial Park to the Taplin Group at a price of $112,000.
  • A resolution passed Tuesday regarding the proposed transfer of two tax-foreclosed properties to the Three Rivers Housing Authority. The properties include 303 North Erie Avenue and 1401 Fifth Street. The resolution places the proposed transfers on file for 30 days with the City Clerk.
  • Another resolution now authorizes Three Rivers resident taxpayers to protest in writing to the Board of Review. Previously, only non-resident taxpayers could protest in writing, whereas residents had to appear in person. The resolution as passed is a pandemic measure.
  • Amid the ongoing switch by St. Joseph County Central Dispatch from a VHF to a UHF radio system, it became apparent that the new signals do not reach certain areas of Three Rivers City Hall’s concrete structure, including parts of the fire station. Commissioners authorized a bi-directional antenna that will provide the necessary coverage. The low bid of $23,559 came from a company called Roe-Comm, which offered a substantial savings over other bidders due to familiarity with the St. Joseph County system.
  • TRDDA Vice Chair Michael Hogoboom read a statement regarding recent rape allegations against recently reappointed TRDDA Chair Andrew George. Watershed Voice provided coverage of Hogoboom’s statement here.

Dave Vago is a writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.

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