Businesses reopen in downtown Northville with new pedestrian mall
Posted on 06/18/2020
Diners will enjoy being outdoors with more open space.City Council unanimously approved the “Reopening Downtown Special Event” at a special online meeting on June 5 to help jump-start sales for restaurants and retailers that had been operating at reduced capacity or closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DDA submitted a special event application that creates a pedestrian mall with expanded outdoor seating for restaurants and merchandise displays by retailers on N. Center Street from Main to Dunlap and E. Main between Hutton and Center. The special event application requires those streets be closed to traffic from sometime in June (based on liquor licenses) until Sat., Oct. 31 (Halloween).

In legislative updates, DDA Director Lori Ward said House Bill 5781, if approved, would allow municipalities the ability to designate a “social district” that contains a commons area that may be used by the businesses in the social district to serve alcohol for consumption on site. The bill was amended and sent to the Ways and Means committee. The 13 LCC licensees in downtown Northville, many of them located on Main, will need both the LCC 204a permit (State permit for a limited permanent outdoor service area) and City permit to serve alcohol in an expanded outdoor area. The City will close streets when the majority of restaurants in an area have their permits in place.

This enhanced space allows for social distancing as businesses welcome back customers who had quarantined at home to prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Southeast Michigan. Many Northville businesses suffered financially during the three-month period when executive orders by the governor limited non-essential business operations in an effort to reduce the high rate of disease and death caused by the novel coronavirus.

Ward noted that the plan will need to be re-evaluated weekly in part because “We don’t know what’s going on with the virus spread.”

To keep the focus on Northville businesses, City Council cancelled the permit for the Food and Wine Festival slated for Sept. 11-13. All other downtown-based events sponsored by either the DDA or various organizations, including the Chamber, have been cancelled for the first part of the summer. To create a festive atmosphere, the sound system in Town Square is back on with streaming music. Acoustic concerts with only a few performers will be added sometime in July.
The DDA will advertise the new event with yard signs and banners.

City Manager Pat Sullivan voiced his concern about having increased traffic in neighborhoods with the closure of two main streets downtown. His message was matched by Police Chief Alan Maciag, who said the police have been getting a lot of calls recently about speeding in neighborhoods and he was concerned about increased neighborhood traffic with the closure of Center St. especially. He recommended just closing Main St.

Northville resident Susan Haifleigh, of 308 S. Wing, said that Wing (street and court) bears the brunt of street closures in downtown but she and her neighbors are willing to accept that inconvenience for “the economic health of the community” and the “health and safety of people,” noting “It’s critical that our infrastructure (downtown businesses) stays in place.”

Council Member Barbara Moroski-Browne said it’s a “grand social and economic experiment.” With reduced street parking available downtown, she said residents expect there will be a higher volume of cars parking on High Street and asked whether two-hour parking spots could be created there to match the allotted parking time on Wing St. That recommendation will be addressed at a later date.

Street closures on E. Main from Center to Hutton and on N. Center from Main to Dunlap will be marked with barriers with room to allow egress for emergency vehicles. Moroski-Browne stated that she wanted secure barriers to keep traffic away from pedestrians. Council member Marilyn Price recounted that the DPW said it would be a hardship to set up and remove concrete barriers each weekend, which was a major factor in council’s approval of the long-term plan. Another point, made by Police Chief Maciag, was that the traffic signals would need to be changed every weekend if closures occurred weekly rather than being continuous.

As it stands, traffic signals in the detour route will be switched to flashing red with stops in all directions.

The DDA held several Zoom meetings with constituents and conducted two surveys in the last few months polling business owners about potential street closures to boost business. Of 44 respondents in one survey, 29 wanted the streets closed all summer and 11 wanted streets closed weekends only. Four said they didn’t want street closures.

Shawn Riley, DDA board chair and local realtor and musician, 335 Eaton Dr., said he’s had many conversations with neighbors and has been around restaurants since he was 15 years old – working in them and playing for patrons who visit bars and restaurants. He’s an avid supporter of restaurants and understands their urgent need to get back to business. He noted that he’s active in two Facebook groups comprised of many Northville residents and the majority of likes and comments support the plan to allow restaurants and retailers to expand their footprint at this time.

In addition to Town Square, Church Square will also be open for carry-out dining. To keep those areas clean and prevent garbage bins from overflowing by the end of the day, Sullivan said it will be the responsibility of the DDA, as the permit holder, to keep it clean on evenings and weekends. Typically, DPW clean-up is conducted Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the special event hosts pays for clean-up. Ward said that would be a challenge because her seasonal workers typically don’t work weekends and evenings. Council members said they would check with business owners and community organizations about assisting in the clean-up effort.

“This is a community thing and it’s time for the community to come together,” said Northville Mayor Brian Turnbull. “We want to make sure the area is clean, sanitized and has restrooms.”

Mayor Turnbull thanked council members for being involved in the initiative by talking to store owners and neighbors and getting a sense of what the community wanted.

Of the approximately 35 people who attended the June 5 online meeting, there were several public comments.

Derek Blair, the new owner of Northville Gallery, said he supports the closure of the two streets and “anything we can do to make it work.”

Paul Gabriel, co-owner of BrownDog, said owners will be making a big investment in umbrellas and seating for the new outdoor aspect and it’s not worth it to only keep the streets closed on weekends. “You’re talking about traffic and trash, look at what’s really at stake. We need to take a leap of faith and try this.”

John Casey, co-owner of Poole’s Tavern, said it’s a capacity issue. “Businesses only have the summer season to make 85% of their profits.”

There was extended discussion about Center Street, which is home to Center Street Grill, Rebecca’s and Tuscan Grill. There’s not enough sidewalk space to extend the footprint of these restaurants and still keep the six-foot distance between diners and pedestrians. While Church Square offers public space, it’s really only convenient to Center Street Grill, Council Member Price noted.

Resident David Cole asked whether the outdoor platforms could be used at restaurants on the east side of N. Center so the street wouldn’t have to close, but Ward said those platforms could only hold two tables that were six feet apart (from back of chairs).

Sullivan suggested the option of using the space behind those businesses to expand their outdoor fo

otprint. Price responded that the back space facing the surface parking lot is not attractive and restaurants keep their dumpsters there.

Those limiting factors convinced Council to close that street as well.

The DDA has created a map that shows how and where stores will be setting out their merchandise. The pedestrian walkway will be 18 feet wide, which allows for social distancing of six feet between walkers going in each direction. Passages near store entrances will remain at five feet (ADA compliant) and some storefronts on the south side of S. Main will have six feet of space.

View the video here.