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City finalizing plans on outdoor dining district

NILES — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep indoor dining shuttered, Niles residents will soon have a chance to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat outside as part of a new dining district initiative. The city just has to iron out a few details first.

At Monday evening’s Niles City Council meeting, the council members unanimously approved an outdoor dining district on Second Street, off Main Street, in downtown Niles. The area proposed for the district will be just north of Main Street, and just south of the Alley, and will provide an area outdoors for people to enjoy food and drinks from surrounding restaurants and bars. Now, city leaders are finalizing details to make the district a reality.

“[The meeting] was the first step,” said Lisa Croteau, marketing and administrative director of the Niles Downtown Development Authority. “The Michigan Liquor Control Commission currently allows licensed establishments to sell cocktails to go. The city council approved people to be able to drink in that area.”

The district will be closed off to through traffic, but leave the alley and parking lot on Second Street accessible by surrounding streets. The planned area will take eight parking spaces from Second Street.

“Folks can use the more than ample parking on Sycamore Street and the parking lot,” Croteau said. “The space will more than make up for those parking spaces.”

The Niles DDA will have more information by Dec. 3 on parts of the project, such as the status of a winterization grant it has applied for. A fire pit is one thing the DDA has planned for the area, to help keep diners warm when visiting the area.

According to Croteau, the city of Niles will be allowing the use of picnic tables from some of its parks to be used in the blocked off district. The district will be protected by jersey barriers, filled with water, to block the pedestrian area from vehicles.

The restrooms located in the parking lot at Sycamore and Second streets are also being cleaned up for use in the area, Croteau said.

For the downtown restaurants and bars that have continued to try to adapt to the COVID-19 mandated closures and limitations throughout the year, Croteau hoped this will bring a new avenue for them to continue serving customers.

“We are working on the best way to help with business’ menus,” she said.

The outdoor dining area will also allow for socializing safely outdoors, hosting artisans selling wares and even providing a venue for buskers to perform.

“We want to create that Christmas market feel, so that we can keep people socially distanced and still be able to make some money for the businesses,” Croteau said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

Bryan Williams, owner of The Brass Eye, 205 N. Second St., will have his business within the proposed district.

“I think it’s going to be great for downtown,” Williams said. “Especially when there’s ‘no dine-in’ orders in place.”

Williams supported the idea of the area being voted to be an area where alcoholic beverages could be consumed.

“I don’t have any concerns about it,” he said.
He liked the idea of allowing for to-go cocktails  in the area, as long as people remember they cannot open their drinks to consume them until they are inside the outdoor dining district.

Around the corner at 215 E. Main St., Pizza Transit’s owner Sarah Brittin also had warm feelings about the dining area.

“I think it will be fun and hopefully be good for those of us with closed dining rooms,” Brittin said. “Hopefully it can be a fun and safe place to gather and enjoy the many great eateries we have in downtown Niles.”

The district will be up for reevaluation by the Niles City Council on Jan. 11, 2021.

City leaders are planning for the outdoor dining district to be ready for use by mid-December, Croteau said.

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