Traverse City Changing To Healthier Drinking Culture

Traverse City has a drinking culture problem in downtown, according to the Healthier Drinking Culture strategic plan.

The project is led by Downtown Development Authority, City of Traverse City and Traverse City Police Department. City Police Chief Jeff O’Brien claims alcohol as an underlying reason for nearly every call the police department responds to.

“There was a culture within this community for a long time that alcohol was monetary of success,” he says. “We’re in this position because of that culture, that philosophy.”

During the DDA’s Board of Directors meeting, Friday, a Healthier Drinking Culture Strategic Plan was introduced. The plan identifies the problem seen by business owners and residents.

This spring, a survey was sent out about the drinking culture. Around 1,000 responses were recorded. Forty percent of responses came from the downtown area. Responses were also broken down into age groups. The 65 and older group were the highest at 26 percent. People 25-34 responded at a rate of 10 percent, according to the plan leaders.

The team also conducted 70 one-on-one interviews and hosted multiple listening sessions.

The strategic plan says business owners showed concern about disorderly crowds, unsafe conditions for customers and staff and property damage as a result of binging alcohol. Residents, businesses and non-profits are concerned about the image it creates for the city.

Not everyone agrees there’s a drinking problem though.

“We rank 25th out of 83 Michigan communities with a problem drinking,” says DDA Board Member, Pete Kirkwood, who also has a business in town. “We’re in the lowest third. So yeah, let’s make sure we have a good approach to our drinking culture but let’s also make sure we don’t start telling the world that we’re Daytona Beach or Key West.”

The plan also identifies ways to change the drinking culture to a more positive one. There are several action step that are recommended for DDA, TCPD and city government. The steps are separated by immediate, short-term and long-term actions.

A few immediate steps that can be taken include: changes to the liquor permitting process and pedicab licenses; changes to tour bus operations; continue and increase TCPD presence in downtown; continue TCPD training on conflict de-escalation; adding security cameras in public spaces; adding outdoor lighting in public streets, alleys and sidewalks in downtown.

Many of the immediate actions could be revisited in short-term plans. The long-term plan would be to explore the feasibility of offering more transportation for late evenings and affordable, accessible options for visitors from out of town.