A group of Flint minds got together and turned a parking lot into a Winter Wonderland

FLINT, Michigan -- For years, the parking lot next to Flint City Hard Cider Co. (610 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.), has been just that -- a parking lot. One that was usually filled with cars, often parked in … creative ways making it hard to navigate getting in and out during busy times.

Charlie Burt, owner of Flint City Hard Cider (FCHC), imagined something different when he looked at the lot: a Winter Wonderland. And thanks to partnerships with the What’s Up Downtown Project and the Genesee County Land Bank as well as support by a local contractor, the parking lot has come alive as a community space that allows people to safely gather.

“Generally the parking lot is full of cars, so even picturing trying to do anything out there is kind of starting with a blank slate,” Burt said. “I really wanted to make people feel like they aren’t in a parking lot. We wanted to incorporate Christmas trees and lights and things like that just to kind of capture the season and give the community a space they can actively and safely come out and support local businesses.”

The dynamic space includes a fire pit, an outdoor stage, art, and more, with events including open mics and outdoor concerts planned. There is also space that allows people to spread out and follow health and safety guidelines.

On January 23, Flint City Hard Cider is hosting a Long John Jamboree for charity from 7:30-10:30 p.m., with people who bring at least three non-perishable items receiving a discount on cider. FCHC is also donating $1 to charity for every person through the door in a onesie, long johns, or pajamas. Upcoming live music and events are listed online on the What’s Up Downtown calendar.

“It’s just a creative idea from Flint minds,” said Kady Yellow from the What’s Up Downtown Project. “Charlie was thinking through how to create a safe and interactive community environment, and came up with this.”

Burt worked with Jon Mason, a contractor and carpenter who Burt calls “just a hardcore Flint guy,” to build and install elements of the space. 

“Jon Mason is like the guy behind the scenes,” Burt said. “He helped with a lot of the visual aspect. He continues to try and create really cool, fun things downtown.”

The space was completed and opened in early January, and Burt said the reaction so far has been great.

“People are excited and really willing to be a part of something unique, which is what Flint’s all about,” Burt said. “We’re a unique crowd and we always find a way to overcome and figure things out. Being able to facilitate that has been really a dream come true.”

The space also helps celebrate music and art in the city. Erik McIntyre performed in January. Burt said their schedule is booked through this month, but they’re looking for local acts for February and March. Local musicians interested in performing or finding out requirements can message the FCHC Facebook page for information.

The success so far -- and how it highlights the collaborative spirit in the downtown community of businesses, residents, and artists -- has been rewarding.

“It’s what we’ve been striving to be a part of, just to have this collective of people who want to make a positive difference here,” Burt said. “Flint has a small-town feel in this downtown community, because we’re becoming more and more close knit, whether it’s the artists and musicians, or chefs, or placemakers, or business owners, we’re all working toward the same goal.”

The state of Michigan is reportedly considering lifting restrictions on indoor dining in early February, but even when that happens, Burt sees the outdoor space continuing.

“That’s a space that I’m looking to keep rolling as long as it is needed,” he said. “Once we can have people inside again, there’s still going to be a lot of people who will be more comfortable outside. That’s something that us as business owners have to recognize and deliver.”
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