YPSILANTI, MI — Ypsilanti businesses in commercial districts may be able to expand their footprints this summer as part of a proposed plan to close some streets to allow for increased capacity and social distancing.
Facing a 50% capacity limit, among other challenges from the coronavirus pandemic, businesses could use outdoor space in front of their storefronts, according to a proposal from the city’s Downtown Development Authority.
The idea is by giving businesses more space, capacity would expand and customers could spread apart outside, lowering the risk of potentially spreading COVID-19, DDA officials said, adding that a survey of 50 downtown businesses showed most plan to reopen once the stay-home order is lifted.
“The additional capacity would help reduce crowding in stores and allow pedestrians to spread out on our most popular corridors of East Cross Street and Washington, rather than being funneled onto sidewalks,” the DDA proposal states. “We hope this encourages people to feel more comfortable and confident returning to their favorite restaurants and shops by providing adequate space to practice safe social distancing.”
City Council will vote on the DDA’s proposal at its virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 2. DDA Executive Director Christopher Jacobs said he hopes the plan can be in place as soon as restaurants are permitted to reopen.
The DDA recommends closing East Cross Street from Rice to River streets in Depot Town, according to the proposal. North Washington Street from Pearl Street to Michigan Avenue and South Washington Street, from Michigan Avenue to the South Huron Parking lot downtown also would be closed.
Michigan Avenue would remain open to east-west vehicle traffic, while Washington Street and Cross Street would both be open to pedestrians.
The impact of this plan would allow retailers to display goods and complete transactions outdoors, the DDA proposal states. Stores and restaurants can also apply for outdoor cafe permits to reserve parking spaces in front of the business for additional space, according to the plan.
The DDA proposes blocking the streets until Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. It offered to pay the city $2,500 for the parking spaces’ lost revenue, which on average collects $1.20 per day, according to the proposal.
Businesses with liquor licenses will need to get permission from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to serve drinks outside, using a “Limited Permanent Outdoor Service Area Permission Application.”
The liquor board said it would streamline these applications, which can be in effect through Oct. 31. They require that the area of service is within 25 feet of the licensed bar or restaurant and not separated by a street. The business must also submit permission from the local government.
Outdoor structures or displays can’t be permanent in case an emergency vehicle needs to use the roadway, according to the plan.
“We hope this proposal helps create a safe environment for those who live, work, and visit our commercial and public spaces,” Jacobs said in an email. “It’s imperative that we think creatively about how to support our business community as they prepare to reopen so people feel comfortable returning to the places they love.”
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