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GR approves "social zones" to rescue local restaurants from pandemic's fallout

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.

Last Thursday, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved what it’s calling “social zones” to help restaurants, bars, and coffee shops abide by social distancing guidelines when they resume dine-in services.

Lou Canfield, the city’s acting assistant director of design, development and community engagement says once Governor Gretchen Whitmer grants West Michigan restaurants’ permission to resume dine-in services, he’s hoping businesses will take advantage of the social zones initiative to serve their customers. Canfield describes the social zones like this.

“Temporary dining plaza, or you might think of them as a food court (and) what we envision is people can buy food at nearby restaurant and either carry out to the social zones so that will give more capacity for outdoor dining or potentially have it deliver to them there if that’s what the restaurant chooses to do.”

Public, or private property, sidewalks and streets can operate as social zones. In areas like Ionia Avenue, Canfield says they might implement a social zone on a side street so as not to block traffic on the main avenue.

“So, imagine one of the side streets there where a block is closed off and its basically been turned into an outdoor plaza where people can dine at tables and chairs with appropriate social distancing between the different parties.”

Businesses and organizations like Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. can act like sponsors for social zones by applying through the city’s special event approval process. The sponsor of the social zone will be responsible for maintaining equipment, dealing with trash and litter, and abiding by state guidelines. The social zones initiative is expected to run from June 1st to November 30th.

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