First “Social Zones” being installed in Grand Rapids this weekend

Published on June 19, 2020

A DGRI Ambassador assembles a table set for one of three downtown social zones.

Initiative allows for expanded outdoor dining and socialization space as businesses re-open

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - As restaurants, bars and coffee shops continue to reopen after the lifting of COVID-related restrictions, the City of Grand Rapids will see the first four of its newly established social zones set up this weekend. The program was announced in late May as part of the City’s economic recovery efforts, with the goal of helping businesses jumpstart their daily operations after three months of indoor dining restrictions.

Social zones can be established by permit on public property, streets and sidewalks to encourage expanded outdoor dining and socialization space. In establishing social zones, the workgroup charged with developing the program – made up of representatives from the City, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) and the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce – recognized that indoor occupancy initially would be restricted to 50 percent of pre-COVID-19 levels. The goal of the program is to allow businesses to meet anticipated demand by expanding outdoor seating – either on private or public property – while adhering to physical distancing needs and easing special use permitting needs. 

“The idea is simply to let restaurants serve more customers while allowing those who don’t want to go indoors yet to feel safe,” said Lou Canfield, the City’s acting assistant director of design, development and community engagement. “It’s a new concept for us and will be experimental in some ways. We are ready to work with interested businesses and business organizations to make it work for them.”

Public or private social zones can be setup, and both types will be established through the City’s existing approval processes.

Beginning Friday, the City and DGRI will start to lay the groundwork for four public social zones, all administered by DGRI –  Monroe North, Bridge St., Center City and Heartside. 

As the administrator of these initial four zones, DGRI will work directly with businesses to define – at the block level – different interventions that support the reopening of the business under the current public health guidelines, such as creative outdoor seating arrangement, outdoor retail sales and other strategies. DGRI will also help with garbage removal, table cleaning and other basic place management services.

“We know that these last three months have been stressful for many of our local businesses, so we’re doing our best to help make their transition to getting back to their daily operations less cumbersome and more efficient,” said Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer for DGRI. “The goal for us has been to lift regulatory processes and costs so business owners can focus solely on managing their business back to profitability. We anticipate organizing these zones will be an iterative and evolving process that we co-create with all involved in a way that best meets the needs of the business district.”

Some traffic lanes will be impacted on Friday during set-up of the zones, and a lower level of impact will continue for the duration of the social zones, said Canfield. 

The following street segments are expected to be detoured between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. (or some subset of that window of time) Friday to facilitate deployment of concrete barriers to create expanded seating areas:

  • Bridge Street NW, Summer to Winter – once the deployment is completed, 2-way traffic will be restored for the duration of the social zone but shifted north so that westbound traffic is in the north parking lane and eastbound traffic is in the formerly westbound lane. This will allow for an expanded seating zone on the south side of Bridge that includes about 40 percent of the roadway.
  • Monroe Center St. NW, Ionia to Division – once the deployment is completed, 1 lane of traffic (left lane) will be restored for the duration of the social zone on this block. (The rest of Monroe Center (Monroe to Ionia) will be closed for the duration of the social zone with cross-traffic continuing on Ottawa and Ionia.)
  • Ionia Ave. SW, Oakes to Fulton – once the deployment is completed, 1-way north-bound traffic (no southbound) will be restored for the duration of the social zone on these blocks. That traffic will flow in the left (formerly southbound) lane from Oakes to Weston and shift to the right lane from Weston to Fulton. This has been coordinated with The Rapid.
  • Monroe Ave. NW (northbound detour only), Trowbridge to Bond to Newberry – once deployment is completed, normal traffic flow will be restored, since the expanded seating areas will be limited to on-street parking places.
  • Other, smaller traffic impacts are possible in other locations due to small-scale deployments.

“Our businesses need space,” added Guy. “We have a ton of space in our urban business districts. We just need to think creatively about using that space differently in a way that supports the needs of our businesses in these challenging times.

“Ultimately, we’re hopeful these moves help provide a strong foundation for economic recovery in Grand Rapids.”

Businesses within the four DGRI-administered social zones who want to participate can contact Mark Miller, DGRI’s managing director of planning and design, at 616.719.4610 or

Businesses in other areas of Grand Rapids can find out more about establishing a social zone in their neighborhood HERE.

Map of downtown social zones
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