Patrons stand outside the Union Street Saloon, Bootlegger's and Dillinger's Pub on Union Street in downtown Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City’s party scene will be the focus of a $100,000 study commissioned by the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority.

Members unanimously authorized a contract with Statecraft to develop a strategic plan for Healthy Drinking Culture at the DDA’s virtual meeting Friday morning.

The plan will be paid for by a $100,000 grant the DDA received in April from the Northern Michigan Regional Entity.

Statecraft’s owner and project manager Elise Crafts said the first phase will be an “organized, transparent process” to identify a plan and goals to be implemented in the second phase and that work has already begun on the plan.

The contract runs through May 31, 2021.

Megan Olds, president/principal of Parallel Solutions and the lead facilitator of stakeholder engagement piece, asked the DDA board members two questions: What are the current conditions and what does the future look like? The DDA board responded to each in a roll call format.

DDA board member Pete Kirkwood, founder and owner of the Workshop Brewing Company, said alcohol consumption in the city is “not a monolithic drinking culture” and what message is emphasized or promoted can have a huge effect on public perception.

“You can be Bourbon Street or Napa Valley,” Kirkwood said, talking about two drastically different parts of the country that rely on revenue emphasizing a party atmosphere (New Orleans) versus craft (California).

Emphasizing other aspects of downtown like dining and recreation were other suggestions from the DDA board to minimize a reliance on alcohol consumption. Scott Hardy said when drinking is secondary there is a better balance.

“When drinking becomes the primary activity, that’s when it becomes a problem,” Hardy said.

Hardy added there is a “younger drinking culture” in Traverse City that often lives outside it. Hardy said any study on the subject needs “to connect with an entirely different part of the population” that may not live or work in the city.

Mayor Jim Carruthers said he has heard several complaints about bars on Union Street from Front to State streets. He said patrons often spill into the street.

Carruthers also brought up Traverse City being a destination for drinking, citing the city’s presence on a Top-10 party town in the state or a popular spot for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Several DDA board members also talked about pub crawls and other forms of taking people to several different locations either inside the city or in outlying areas whether by bus, bicycle, car or even kayak.

“A lot of people arrive in downtown already drinking,” Carruthers said, a sentiment other DDA board members mentioned.

Several DDA board members questioned the necessity of the engagement piece of the plan.

Carruthers called it “a lot of money up front for a problem we know we have.”

Kirkwood said any issues related to over-serving and consumption are “there and easy to identify.”

“It’s kind of the trap of putting the rabbit into the hat,” he said.

DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said the engagement and implementation of the strategic plan is unlike any other in the state.

“It’s a different approach to look at the drinking culture,” she said.

In other business at the nearly two-hour meeting, the DDA board:

  • Recommended the City Commission approve at its Oct. 5 meeting the Managed Parking System Approach, parking fee rate maximums and ordinance amendments for meter activation for electric vehicles and to rescind the same day meter violation discount.
  • Elected Gabe Schneider chair, Hardy vice-chair, Steve Constantin treasurer and Debbie Hershey secretary at its annual meeting.
  • Heard a report on several project updates and briefly discussed the closure of two blocks of Front Street to vehicle traffic this summer. Derenzy said she is talking to Michael Moore about installing pictures on the plywood covering the doors at the State Theatre until it reopens.

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