Fairfield City Council considers establishing outdoor drinking area

Several other Butler County communities have already established DORA districts.

Fairfield City Council is entertaining the idea to bring a designated outdoor refreshment area to the Village Green.

This week, City Council heard a presentation about the district, commonly referred to as DORA. It’s something the city has resisted in the past few years, but City Manager Scott Timmer said some council members have advocated for the district.

“I think a couple of years ago, you didn’t see some of the success we’ve had in Butler County with the other DORA districts,” said Timmer. “You’ve been able to see some of the good things in Hamilton, Middletown, Oxford, and Liberty Center (Mall in Liberty Twp.). They all have them, they’ve all had some success in getting them in place and getting positive interactions from residents in their areas.”

Fairfield’s proposed 27-acre microscope-shaped district includes the park and Community Arts Center and the Village Green shopping center across Wessel Drive, where Berd’s Grill and Bar and LaPinata are located. It also encircles Richard’s Pizza on Nilles, the Fairfield Pub on Nilles, and Applebee’s on Wessel Drive.

City Council will conduct a public hearing next month to get citizen input, and Timmer anticipates some pushback from the Village Green neighborhood which abuts the park.

“It’s not absolutely required, but we think it’s important to gather public input,” Timmer said of the public hearing scheduled for May 23. “We want to hear what residents have to say, and to hear if they have any suggestions.”

Council will consider the DORA application in June, which would then be sent to the state for approval. Councilman Matt Davidson, who’s seen firsthand the success of Hamilton’s DORA district, hopes the state would approve the application by mid-July. The first-term councilman has his law office inside the Hamilton DORA district.

“I’ve already talked with some (Fairfield residents) and there are some concerns, and I understand it. Just as I saw (the concerns) when Hamilton’s was happening,” said Davidson. “But we’ve done our due diligence to make sure no other cities have had issues. There are no problems that people worry about. Things aren’t going to be brought on by this.”

Hamilton spokesman Brandon Saurber said the city’s DORA includes nearly two dozen local establishments within the nearly 300-acre district. The city started in 2018 with seven.

“In Hamilton, the DORA has been very impactful to our business community, so much so that we have taken it upon ourselves to expand the district twice since its founding four years ago,” he said. “We have seen that businesses looking to locate in Hamilton cite the district as an important factor in choosing where to locate ― some have specifically requested to only see property in the district.”

In the coming years, Saurber expects nearly a dozen new serving establishments within the district, and since its founding has seen the addition of 31 retail businesses in the district.

DORA districts were established by the Ohio General Assembly in 2015. Middletown was the first city to establish a DORA, and Hamilton’s is the largest in the region, and possibly the state. Other southwest Ohio communities with a DORA outside Butler County include Cincinnati, Lebanon, Loveland, Mason, Montgomery, Sharonville, Springboro, and Wyoming.

Davidson said as DORAs have been known to help with a community’s economic development efforts, it also adds to a community’s quality of life.

“It’s not the main thing that’s brought the economic boom (to a community), there are obviously other things that have gone into it, but it absolutely helps create a crowd, it helps create reasons to go to a certain area,” Davidson said. “It all comes down to a joint effort with quality of life and economic development.”

Timmer said the district will include establishments like the Fairfield Pub and Richard’s Pizza on Nilles Road. The southern end will incorporate Village Green Park which includes the CAC and Berd’s Grill and Bar. They’ll also include Applebee’s down Wessel.

There are several rules for the DORA, including proposed hours of 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. seven days a week, DORA beverages must be served in a new, unused official cup, only one cup per person is permitted at a time, all DORA drinks must be consumed before entering a new establishment, and all beverages must be purchased at a participating establishment.

Timmer said there will be some startup costs, which could range between $15,000 and $20,000, and would include additional trash cans.

“We talked with a couple of jurisdictions, and some of their big lessons learned were that when you have a sign at a termination point, you better have a garbage can with it,” he said.

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