The City of East Lansing has closed down part of Albert Ave. to open up an outdoor picnic space to support downtown businesses and give people a chance to get out and enjoy themselves downtown.
Under a series of measures passed recently by City Council and supported by the DDA, people should soon be seeing additional options to enjoy food and beverages – including take-out beer and wine – outside around downtown this summer.
The new dining space on Albert Ave., between the new parking garage entrance and part of Ann Street Plaza, has been blocked off with picnic tables brought in from parks around East Lansing.
People can use the space from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. to eat recently-purchased take-out food and drink from restaurants within three blocks. [UPDATE: The City Manager now wants to close the tables at 9 p.m. to avoid bar lines mixing up with the table area. Council will take up this issue at its meeting of June 23.]
The area, which opened last night, constitutes a specially-designated open-alcohol zone. To use it, people over the age of 21 will have to buy sealed beer or wine from nearby restaurants, uncap or uncork it in the special zone, and consume it there.
The table space is limited to two hours per party. Not coincidentally, through the end of June, the City is offering free two-hour parking in all gated lots and garages. (When you exit the garage, the system gives you a two-hour credit.)
People using the space are asked to clear their own trash, not smoke, and observe social distancing between parties using the area.
East Lansing’s DDA has dedicated $20,000 from its funds to help pay for sanitation of the area. Seasonal staff who normally work as lifeguards and in other roles at the Family Aquatic Center have been hired to do the sanitation, as the Aquatic Center will be closed all of this year.
Answering questions from ELi, Director of Planning Tom Fehrenbach says he thinks that the $20,000 from the DDA will last about 4-6 weeks. After that, the City will have to figure out how to fund sanitation for this project.
If this first dining area works out, the City plans to open a similar space in Lot 11, the Bailey Street lot, behind The Peanut Barrel.
The City also plans to open another space on a series of parking spots on Valley Court Drive, just north of Crunchy’s. That area has to be set up on parking spaces because the tables are tough on grass and because drinking in parks is strictly forbidden in East Lansing.
On Albert Ave., one lane has been kept open for emergency vehicles to be able to get through. Visitors to the area will generally see an emergency vehicle parked there, keeping the lane dedicated to emergency use.
At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council also passed a resolution reinterpreting the zoning code to allow Planning Department staff to decide which businesses could use public space outside their doors for additional seating.