The Commons is on Midland’s front porch

Carl Gerstacker, a Midland founding father and former Dow Chemical CEO, said  downtowns are the “front porch” of any community. This idea struck a chord with Selina Harris, Midland’s Community Affairs Director, who says The Commons and the Pedestrian Plaza exemplify that idea. Downtown now is not only a commercial area, but also a place for the community to gather and socialize. Once a place just for stores and shopping, the long-range strategic plan for downtown Midland now has the word “socialize” in its purpose.
Selina Harris is the City of Midland's Community Affairs Director.
The Pedestrian Plaza, reopening June 6, refers to the two blocks on Main Street seasonally closed to traffic. The Commons includes the Pedestrian Plaza, and adjacent streets downtown. Harris says [The Commons] began with legislation enacted in 2020 during the COVID shutdown that allowed and continues to allow people to get an adult beverage outside. “It’s beverages to-go,” she says. Businesses have the option to participate, and all eight with liquor licenses in the designated area, from Gordon to Rodd and Main to Larkin, have opted in through application.

“From June through September The Pedestrian Plaza is a place where people can wander around and get to know their downtown,” Harris says. There are games, nice places to sit, free live music on the weekends . . . “People can get food to go where everyone gets their own choice. It allows everyone, including the kids, to do their own thing. It’s good for people-watching and is a great gathering space.” Specific information including the music lineup and dates of special events can be found at Information about volunteering for downtown events can also be found here.

Harris says the bands are the biggest draw but also the greatest ongoing expense. This year several businesses (Dow Credit Union, The H Hotel, Mercantile Bank, Peel ‘n Pare, Tri-Star Trust and Three Rivers Corporation) have joined forces with the city as primary sponsors to help with the $60 thousand price tag that 37 nights of live music brings. The city has made other significant investments in The Pedestrian Plaza with one-time purchases such as industrial grade cornhole games and ping pong tables. Harris says the city also has a wonderful horticultural team led by Stephanie Richardson,. “They do an amazing job of making downtown look great.”

Fun for the family and a place to bring friends permeates the positive vibe on Main Street. Contrary to what sometimes can happen when large groups gather, Harris says, “We have not had any problems. It’s a privilege people want to keep.” 16 oz. plastic cups labeled with The Commons designation, as well as the name of the business that sold the beverage, help to manage and monitor the functionality of the area. Last year at this time, the city had issued more than 68,000 cup stickers. “At $5-10 per drink, that’s a lot of revenue for our downtown businesses,” Harris said. 

General Manager of Molasses Smokehouse and Bar, Tyler Johnson says, “[On live music nights] we see a 10-15% increase in alcohol sales alone. The Pedestrian Plaza/Commons has had a positive impact on Molasses to the extent that they will be expanding hours of operation this summer.

Bringing more people downtown equals more revenue, and that in turn attracts more business. Harris says a couple of new businesses have opened since the advent of the Pedestrian Plaza/Commons. Brinstar Arcade Bar and Grill is one such business. Opening last spring, Brinstar approached the Downtown Development Authority earlier this year about being a part of The Commons. City Council heard this request at their Monday, May 22 meeting which would extend The Commons from Rodd to Cronkright Street. This expansion would also allow folks attending Thursday evening Movies on Main at Ace Hardware to participate in The Commons and has potential positive implications for Crepe Et Amis and El Carretonero as well, Harris says. 

The Midland City Council will keep a pulse on how the businesses and community feel about the Pedestrian Plaza, which has been approved through 2025. “We’ll continue to make improvements such as accessibility and drop off areas,” Harris says. “What I love the most about the Pedestrian Plaza is how multigenerational it is. From grandparents to grandchildren, it’s just being outside and being together. It’s important for young families have someplace to go and socialize with their friends where their kids get to play.” And while parking may not be as convenient during the summer months as it is during the rest of the year, Harris says, “The community support for this is overwhelmingly positive.” 

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Amy Hutchinson.

Amy Hutchinson retired from the Midland Public Schools in 2018 after 32 years at Midland High School. During that time she taught Journalism and English, advised the student newspaper Focus, and served as department head of English and World Language, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and Assistant Principal. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Central Michigan University and was a Gerstacker Fellow at Saginaw Valley State University. She volunteers for Midland County Senior Services and her church, the United Church of Christ. Amy works part-time at Eastman Party Store. She enjoys gardening, golfing, swimming, traveling, and cooking.