The idea for Ohio’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area came from the owners of BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studios in Middletown. Like other DORAs across the state, the Middletown DORA was set up to bring people back downtown. This photo was taken in 2012 before a First Friday event, before the DORA was established. Photo by Nick Graham
Photo: Nick Graham
Photo: Nick Graham

How Middletown led Ohio’s boom in outdoor drinking areas

Lebanon and Springboro are seeking to become the latest Ohio cities to establish outdoor areas where people can carry beer, wine or their favorite mixed drink.

They are the latest communities to explore establishing Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas (DORA), which are seen as economic development or redevelopment tools used to draw shoppers, diners and others enticed by the option.

“Our downtown has gotten some great exposure from it,” said Shelby Quinlivan, spokesperson for the City of Middletown, the first to set up an outdoor drinking zone in Ohio. “It connects the downtown area.”

The idea came from Jay and Linda Moorman, owners of BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studio in Middletown (alcoholic beverages aren’t served here).

They turned to Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. “as a way to distinguish ourselves and to attract visitors and businesses to our downtown,” Quinlivan said.

Today the Middletown outdoor drinking area covers 107 acres and boasts new small businesses, including a bike shop also serving up alcoholic beverages.

RELATED: Middletown enlarges outdoor drinking area

Springboro might include its historic downtown and the new Wright Station redevelopment at the city center in its outdoor drinking area.

“It is being considered. But more than likely we would do the DORA at Wright Station first, evaluate it, and then consider extending it to the downtown,” Springboro City Manager Chris Pozzuto said in an email.

Ohio lawmakers first legalized outdoor drinking areas in law effective in April 2015.

Lebanon’s would be the 14th formed this year. Six were formed in 2018, according to state records.

Others in the region include Downtown Hamilton and Liberty Center in Butler County, Downtown Springfield in Clark County, Fairborn in Greene County and Mason in Warren County.

The rules are set by the state, but can be modified by the local governments. Middletown’s operates from noon to midnight, every day of the week.

Middletown’s is regulated using a $1 wrist-band system. The bands are good for one day only.

Signs on the businesses indicate they serve, welcome or are not participating in the outdoor drinking area.

“Each business has one of those or two of those in their window. They are noticeable to any visitors,” Quinlivan said. “We’ve had nothing but success.”

When asked about police issues, city officials have indicated few, if any, problems.

Springfield chief of police Lee Graf said they have had few problems with the one established in Clark County.

In Middletown, there were “very minor incidents when we were first starting as far as reminders being given out. You have to give people a little time to understand what the situation is,” Quinlivan said.

In Lebanon, known for festivals and reliant on proceeds to fund non-profits, City Attorney Mark Yurick said the stickiest issue was how the outdoor drinking area would cut into alcoholic beverage sales by non-profits at the festivals.

“From what we knew, some of the folks that were less than enthusiastic with the DORA were folks that had festivals and a reasonable portion of their festival income was in alcohol sales. They were the only folks that could sell liquor for people to consume it out of doors,” he said.

In response, Yurick included language permitting the city to suspend the outdoor drinking area for festivals.

Late last month, the Lebanon City Council approved the outdoor drinking area changes, including sections permitting drinking in public parks within the 46.1 acre boundaries.

RELATED: Lebanon debates creating outdoor drinking area

Last week, state officials said they were waiting for Lebanon’s application and no others pending.

Councilman Doug Shope was the only one to vote against the changes. He expressed concerns the changes would send “young people” the message: “In order to be able to relax and enjoy yourself, there has to be alcohol involved.”

Yurick suggested people would violate Ohio liquor laws on open containers whether or not a outdoor drinking area existed.

“I don’t know if a outdoor drinking area is going to influence a person’s decision to get drunk in a public place. Most people are going to be cautious,” he said.

“Are you going to be 100 percent effective? No,” Yurick added. “That would be naive.”

RELATED: Lebanon to add outdoor drinking area downtown

The Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Liquor Control, handles the permitting process.

“We have not had any reports of issues with any existing outdoor drinking areas, but the enforcement is at a local level,” said Lindsey LeBerth, brand manager for the division.

Participating businesses with liquor licenses are issued new ones once a outdoor drinking area has been formed.

Like Lebanon, the City of Mason, a Warren County suburb with thriving areas outside the downtown, formed a outdoor drinking area as part of downtown revitalization efforts.

“We actually kicked it off as part of our tree-lighting ceremony last year,” said Jenna Hurley, administrative assistant to the city manager assigned to oversee the outdoor drinking area.

The 47.5-acre designated area runs along Main Street, US 42 outside Mason, from Wildflower Café to the Legion hall.

“The sidewalks end there,” Hurley said.

At the end of the summer, Hurley said she queried police about problems in the outdoor drinking area.

“They’d received nothing,” she said. “It’s just another tool the city is trying to use to promote downtown Mason for restaurants and dining.”

Staff Writer Parker Perry contributed to this report.

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