BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The City of Battle Creek used orange traffic cones and yellow tape to block off a section of the State Street parking lot and set up several picnic tables with the hopes that local restaurant-goers will eat there soon.
They called the area State Street Commons.
Downtown development director John Hart said it’s all in an effort to create a social district that would benefit its adjacent restaurants: Cricket Club, Griffin Pub and Grill and Kitchen Proper.
“This is much like a park right,” Hart said during a phone interview with FOX 17 on Thursday. “We knew that we could open up an area that would be just some general seating for people to eat unregulated, other than making sure we can maintain social-distancing and keep it clean.”
Paul Conkey, who owns Griffin Pub and Grill, said they’ve been talking with City Hall about doing this for some time. Patrons of other restaurants are invited to dine their as well. The collective goal of the city, and the economic and tourism bureaus is to continue to make downtown a high foot-traffic area in the city.
“We're trying to make this an attractive downtown. Having a park-like setting out here that’s a common area, it’s great,” Conkey said. “You got Traverse City that's doing that. They’re shutting down front street from end to end, allowing people to bring their gated serving areas out, which is a little bit different than this but I think it’s going to accomplish the same goal.”
The other goal is to bring in some revenue, he said.
Conkey’s restaurant and the Cricket Club next door were hit hard financially by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home executive order, which went into effect in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Loans don’t do me any good,” said Cricket Club owner Joel Fulton. “It puts me further in debt, puts me further behind than when I started. And it’s literally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.”
Fulton said they’ve lost 95 percent in sales. He’s used to bringing in over a thousand dollars a day in revenue. However, lately it’s been around $300.
Now that the governor has closed indoor dining again due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, Fulton fears it’ll hurt the businesses further, he said.
“Right now we’re looking at one step forward, two steps back at this point,” Fulton said. “So take exception and umbrage to a few things going on right now. But, we’ll take what we can get apparently because what else have I go to do.”
Kitchen Proper, a restaurant that's next to the Cricket Club and the Griffin, will also send their patrons to State Street Common. They said in a statement to FOX 17:
“We really appreciate the city being innovative during this time. We are proud of community leaders doing everything in their power to ensure the businesses thriving in our downtown. We have yet to have one business close during this pandemic, which is something to be proud of. We are looking forward to seeing this project grow in the years to come and look forward to being apart of it.”
Fulton said the outdoor dining experience should help bring in customers, especially ones who are opposed to dining indoors and contracting the virus that way.
According to City Hall’s press release, State Street Common will be open through the end of the fall. Once they get licensed, it’ll remain through 2024, with hopefully a few other social districts in the area.
“We know it’s not perfect,” Hart said. “But, together with the restauranteurs, city staff, and city management we’re trying to do the best we can in the times that are in front of us.”