TRAVERSE CITY — Good, bad or in between, Traverse City’s Downtown Development Authority wants to hear what people think of the city’s drinking culture.
People have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years, said Megan Olds, Parallel Solutions founder and Healthy Drinking Culture Project engagement lead.
“This isn’t about saying alcohol is bad or anything like that, this is about creating a healthy culture related to alcohol within the community,” she said.
The city’s wineries, craft breweries and distilleries have become part of its appeal for some, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars catering to all kinds of drinkers, from the cocktail connoisseur to the pint night pilsner fan.
But some behaviors associated with alcohol — binge drinking, rowdy crowds, property damage, drunken driving and more — need addressing, and the 20-question survey is one part of a process to strategize for that change, according to project leaders.
It asks for a variety of answers, from words that come to mind when considering the city’s drinking culture to how often the respondent comes downtown to drink, from opinions on the amount of liquor licenses to the actions of the people who drink and serve alcohol.
Olds said the questions aim to learn the different visions people have for a healthy drinking culture in Traverse City, and how the city does — or doesn’t — meet that. Project leaders are looking for as many anonymous opinions as she can get, Olds said.
That could be from anyone — bar regulars, teetotalers, residents, downtown visitors who live within a few dozen miles and those who don’t. It’s available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/healthierdrinkingtc
Troy Daily owns a few businesses he agreed could be called “alcohol-adjacent.” His Paddle for Pints, TC Cycle Pub, Brew Bus and Kayak, Bike and Brew all revolve around touring breweries, wineries or other places that serve alcohol, and for three years they’ve all been involved in the Healthier Drinking Culture Project.
Daily’s employees already must certify through a program training them to steer customers away from getting intoxicated, he said — the overall strategy is to make each tour about the overall experience, with drinking as the added bonus.
Survey answers will factor into a strategy to address an issue city leaders have grappled with on and off for some time, including in 2019 when several Union Street business owners told the city commission about vandalism, assaults and other behavior they blamed on some of the people who drink at neighboring bars.
Police Chief Jeffrey O’Brien in March 2020 agreed the city’s drinking culture needs a change, then worked with the DDA to secure a $100,000 grant for the DDA to come up with a plan to do so. The grant was from the Northern Michigan Regional Entity coming from alcohol excise taxes.
There’s more to the city’s culture — and challenges — than a few businesses on a single downtown block, DDA CEO Jean Derenzy said.
“It’s not just about the downtown, it’s the city as a whole,” she said.
Project plans also include one-on-one interviews, including with liquor license-holders and substance abuse professionals, and research on how other communities tackle the same issues, Olds said.
Daily said he’s looking forward to being a part of the engagement sessions, and thinks the study and the strategy it aims to create is a worthwhile venture.
“I think there’s a lot of establishments in Traverse City that revolve around alcohol as a means to make and run a business,” he said. “I think there’s a smart way to do that and I think that the businesses that establish a professional way to capture that, then I think everyone can be successful.”
The strategy has a September deadline, and some early recommendations should be ready in early April, Olds said.
Meanwhile, city commissioners have taken a closer look at issuing or transferring liquor licenses in the city. Most recently, Commissioner Brian McGillivary at a recent meeting raised one transfer the state approved.
Traverse City requires liquor licenseholders to register with the city, and that registration creates some local control to bring businesses in compliance with city rules, as previously reported.
City Clerk Benjamin Marentette said his office recently found a number of licenseholders that weren’t registered with the city by comparing the state Liquor Control Commission list to city files. He emphasized that business owners were quick to apply when his office contacted them, adding his office will move up its audits to four times a year.
McGillivary faulted the state Liquor Control Commission for not consistently letting the city know when licenses are transferred, and the business owners for not knowing city ordinances — Mayor Pro Tem Amy Shamroe defended the entrepreneurs and said she doubted anyone was trying to evade city ordinances.