Saline City Council Approves Umbrella Square Extension on South Ann Arbor Street

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The dinner party on South Ann Arbor Street will go on until the end of September.

Saline City Council, by a 6-1 vote, approved Saline Main Street's request to continue closing South Ann Arbor Street to allow the four restaurants to use the area, known as Umbrella Square, for outdoor dining.

The road was rescheduled to reopen at the end of August.

Jill Durnen, president of Saline Main Street, told council that outdoor seating remained crucial to the participating restaurants because some people are still nervous about dining indoors. She noted that when the outdoor dining space was initially approved, it was stated that if the area was successful, Saline Main Street could come back and ask for an extension.

"So here we are," Durnen said.

Mayor Brian Marl said he fully supported the extension after conversing with restaurant owners.

"In September, with more mild weather and with people more apt to be in town, (Umbrella Square) has the potential to be used to a greater extent than it was in July and August," Marl said. "From our restaurateurs, that's reflected in their numbers as well."

In comments read by City Clerk Terri Royal, restaurateurs Wally MacNeil, owner of Mac's Acadian Seafood Shack, and Paul Geragisan, owner of Brecon Grille, expressed support for Saline Main Street's proposal. Both own restaurants that using Umbrella Square. Main Street's request was also supported by Ron Schofield, one of the owners of Salt Springs Brewery, and Saline resident Robert Cameron.

MacNeil said Umbrella Square was valuable to his business. He reported that business is back up to about 74 percent of what it was in 2019. But patio sales, which once represented 14.5 percent of revenue, now represent almost 40 percent of sales. Curbside pickup represents around 10 percent of revenue.  In addition, last September was Mac's best month of the year, with 56.5 percent of $94,000 in sales coming from the patios.

Some of MacNeil's regular customers remain reluctant to dine indoors - a factor not helped by COVID-19 cases rising once again.

"With this new variant of COVID, we could be in another situation with restrictions," MacNeil said through Royal.

Geragosian said Umbrella Square has become a "vibrant" and "successful" part of Saline. 

"It is a place where citizens and visitors can gather and dine, socialize and enjoy what our downtown has to offer," Geragosian said through Royal.

He estimated Umbrella Square is responsible for 70-80 percent of his business since the beginning of June. He said the restaurants have already booked entertainment for the month.

"Umbrella Square gives the City of Saline a city center, a gathering place. What a success story for downtown businesses. Why on earth would you want to take that away from your city," Geragosian wrote.

Marl did say he wanted to see restaurants make more use of the square. Sunday afternoon, for example, the square was vacant except for the quadrant used by Smokehouse 52.

In his public statement, MacNeil noted staffing challenges prevent Mac's from being open as much as they'd like.

Councillor Janet Dillon asked if Main Street reached out to the neighboring businesses to gauge their support. Durnen said Main Street did poll businesses and found the same levels of support found when it was first approved.

Dillon said that as a compromise to those businesses negatively impacted by the road closure, she'd support closing the road until Oktoberfest.

The motion to extend Umbrella Square was moved by Councillor Dean Girbach and seconded by Councillor Jack Ceo. It was approved 6-1, with Dillon voting no.

Two weeks ago, Council rejected Main Street's proposal for an outdoor social zone which would have allowed people to buy alcoholic beverages from participating establishments and drink them as they walked the sidewalks downtown.

Following the meeting, Mayor Marl was asked if he'd support extending Umbrella Square into October. He said due to the worsening weather that would reduce usage of outdoor seating, he'd likely vote against another extension.

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