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Port Huron designates second ‘social district’ for outside drinking along Edison Parkway boardwalk

By Jim Bloch

With summer on its way, there are now more legal places to drink alcohol outside than ever before in Port Huron.

The city recently created its second social district in which people may wander around with specially purchased open intoxicants.

The new district is the Thomas Edison Parkway boardwalk, which extends from the Huron Lightship north along the St. Clair River to its terminus beyond the Blue Water Bridge. The district includes the greenbelt to the east of the parkway.

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The social districts are permitted under Michigan Public Act 124 of 2020. The districts “are common areas where two or more contiguous licensed establishments could sell alcoholic beverages in special cups to be taken into the area for consumption,” according to the resolution approved by the Port Huron City Council at its regular meeting April 25.

The two licensees serving the district are DoubleTree Port Huron and Freighters Taproom and Eatery.

The council voted 6-1 to approve the district. Council member Anita Ashford voted against the measure.

“We were, I believe, the first city in the state to deploy a social district,” said City Manager James Freed, as heard on the recording of the meeting posted on the city’s website. “We were also one of the first to deploy such a large section of our downtown. We did it as a pilot — we didn’t know how it would work out… I can report now that after more than a year and more than 15,000 beverages, we’ve not had issues. People have been responsible. We’ve not had mass public intoxications. We haven’t had trash blowing throughout the city. It’s working out as designed and as planned.”


Photo courtesy of the city of Port Huron
Port Huron’s new social district runs the length of the Edison Parkway boardwalk along the St. Clair River.

The new district will not include Pine Grove Park which begins at the Lightship and runs south.

“We’ll be using the same operational plant as downtown,” said Freed.

A resident contacted council member Bob Mosurak, expressing fear that the district along the river would devolve into “Wild, Wild West” of drinking.

“Maybe if you could go over the parameters of how you have to purchase the cup,” said Mosurak.

“It’s not a situation where you can just bring a case of beer and drink on the boardwalk,” said Freed. Your drink “will have to be purchased in a social district cup from one of those two establishments. It cannot leave the boundaries (of the district).”

Freed said there have not been incidents of wild drinking downtown.

The museum, which runs the lightship, will have to decide if drinking will be allowed on the ship.

Ashford noted that the original intent of the social districts was to boost business for bars and restaurants during the early months of the pandemic and to provide residents with relatively safe venues out of doors in which to enjoy cocktails.

“We recognized the economic benefits of it,” said Freed. “That’s why the governor made it permanent.”

Ashford said that DoubleTree and Freighters already have outside drinking areas.

“Our waterfront is precious,” said Ashford. “Does this cross the line in any way?”

“James, you mentioned this was a pilot and we’ve had no issues in downtown,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Archibald. “I just think it’s important to mention that should there be issues, we can shut this down at any time.”

“Correct,” said Freed.

Mayor Pauline Repp said that her main concern was that the drinking be contained in the social district and not spill into Pine Grove Park.

“I do believe we should keep an eye on it,” said Repp.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at bloch.jim@gmail.com. 

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