Have you enjoyed the outdoor eating and drinking areas around Grand Rapids?

The social zones began as a way to allow restaurants and bars to expand their space outdoors, to help them survive during the pandemic. The City of Grand Rapids has reportedly begun talks to charge businesses that use them.

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City of Grand Rapids May Charge Businesses That Use Social Zones

According to Fox 17, the City of Grand Rapid is considering charging businesses for social zones after looking over the costs to maintain them.

Assistant Director of Mobile Grand Rapids Justin Kimura tells Fox 17 the city has spent money renting out concrete barriers and lost out on income from parking:

At its peak, we had 26 Social zones, 10 of which are outside the downtown area, and it's been a seasonal change. So right now, during the winter, we currently have eight of them [concrete barriers] deployed.

History of Grand Rapids Social Zones

Social Zones were first launched in June 2020, and expanded to allow consumption of alcoholic beverages in blocked-off, designated outdoor areas in August 2020.

In October 2021, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted to extended the social zones, which anchor the seven social district “refreshment areas”, through November 1, 2022.

Lou Canfield, chief of staff in the City Executive Office, said in a release at the time,

“Despite the restoration to full occupancy, some consumers are wary of indoor public spaces due to health concerns. This caution may continue through the upcoming winter given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For these reasons, the Commission voted unanimously to help support local businesses through the upcoming season amid the ongoing pandemic while also mitigating some consumers’ concerns.

The GR City Commission said they were also taking into account two surveys on Grand Rapids social zones which found:

  • 86% of respondents rated their experience with the social zones good or excellent
  • 69% of respondents like the expanded outdoor seating and the to-go alcohol sales
  • 82% would like to see social zones continued after COVID

A Business Owner's Perspective on Outdoor Refreshment Areas

Co-Owner of the Pyramid Scheme Tami VandenBerg tells Fox 17 that having a s zocial zone outside the bar and concert venue downtown Grand Rapids has been "incredibly helpful".

She acknowledges the investment the City has made to make social zones possible, but says now is not the right time to charge businesses:

I feel like we pay substantially into amenities downtown already. So I would really encourage the city to look at the funds that us business owners that have been hit so incredibly hard over the last couple years... what have we already paid in.

Changes Coming for Grand Rapids Social Zones

According to Fox 17, the City of Grand Rapids is now publicly talking about charging businesses for social zones for the first time:

The fees are.... a way to introduce these social zones as a more permanent fixture of the city.

The amount that businesses would be charged is still being worked out.

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