Farmington’s social district a winner at this year’s Main Street Awards in Oakland County

What’s happening: Downtown Farmington’s social district, The Syndicate, was recognized with the “Transforming the Economy” award at this year’s Main Street Awards in Oakland County, the annual awards ceremony that honors those communities taking part in the Main Street Oakland County program. More than 200 people gathered at the Flagstar Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac on Thursday, May 5, for the evening, officially titled “The Main Event: Recognizing Excellence in Oakland County Downtown and Historic Commercial Corridor Revitalization.”

The category: Winning the Transforming the Economy category recognizes Farmington’s efforts to use The Syndicate as a way of supporting downtown businesses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, says John Bry, program coordinator of Main Street Oakland County, to “turn the tide on a bad situation.” It also recognizes Farmington’s The Syndicate as the best practice for designing and implementing social districts in communities throughout the state, he says.

What it is: Social districts were introduced at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic when bars and restaurants were prohibited from allowing indoor drinking and dining. Intended to provide bars and restaurants new revenue streams, the social districts allow participating communities to set up designated outdoor drinking areas where guests can purchase alcoholic drinks to-go and walk and gather throughout said districts. Farmington’s The Syndicate first opened in January 2021.

[Read Social district a ‘game changer’ for bars and restaurants in downtown Farmington” on Metromode.]

John Bry, program coordinator of Main Street Oakland County. (File photo)What they’re saying: “I think what the judges picked up on is that this wasn’t just done in a vacuum within city government or the DDA. The DDA pulled input from the community, worked with businesses and an architect to design the social district footprint. Everyone chipped in to make it happen,” says Bry. “It’s also important that they didn’t just create it and leave it sitting there. Farmington is continuously marketing The Syndicate, using it and engaging it as an economic tool.”

Winners’ circle: Main Street Oakland County, the nation’s only countywide Main Street program, which itself is a national economic development program for traditional downtowns and commercial corridors, recognized several other communities at this year’s Main Street Awards. Highland Township, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester, and Wixom also took home awards for their own downtown programs, a full list of which can be found online.

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.