Big cities aren’t alone in pondering open zones for drinks

Published 9:23 am Monday, May 11, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) — Revelers may soon be able to carry open containers of alcohol legally Ohio — and not just in the big cities.

A new state law intended to spur economic development allows municipalities to establish outdoor refreshment areas that would be exempt from the state’s prohibition against consuming alcohol in public places. The districts would allow people to buy drinks in bars and restaurants and stroll outside with them to enjoy entertainment and shopping or just relax in the open air.

Cincinnati and other large Ohio cities are hoping to use the law to create entertainment districts similar to New Orleans’ French Quarter or Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. But townships and smaller cities also are interested.

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States including Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado and Florida have statutes allowing public alcohol consumption in specified entertainment districts or other areas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And many of those laws, like Ohio’s, are fairly recent.

Ohio’s law, enacted last month, allows a refreshment area of no more than a half-mile square in cities and townships with over 35,000 residents and two in communities with over 50,000.

State Rep. Louis Blessing III, a sponsor of the legislation, recommends communities carefully decide whether districts will work for them.

“They also should think of tailoring them around events that could draw more people, and they need to prepare safety policies,” Blessing said.

Tony Rosiello, chairman of the board of trustees in Green Township, says that southwest Ohio community of just under 60,000 residents is very interested in the concept.

“We would like to see it happen, as long as it’s done right,” he said. “People are wanting more entertainment and the option of staying in their own neighborhood.”

Aubree Kaye, executive director of Downtown Lima Inc., a nonprofit development association in Lima, says that group has long been interested in such an area and will pursue it, if members and officials in the northwest Ohio city of more than 38,000 approve. She says it could provide an additional economic boost to Lima’s central business district, which has experienced resurgence with new restaurants, a wine bar and outdoor events.

“We would want people to be safe and not encourage drunk driving,” said Kaye. “We also hope to encourage more people and businesses to come downtown.”

Ohio’s law also allows communities with populations below 35,000 to create a district after a two-year waiting period.

Medina’s mayor doesn’t think such a district would fit his northeast Ohio city of about 26,000 residents and could pose safety problems.

“We also have many family events, and people walking around with alcohol might turn some away,” said Mayor Dennis Hanwell.

In similarly sized Sandusky, City Manager Eric Wobser says businesses are interested in such a district and the northwestern Ohio city would consider it. Kyle Roth, a partner in the Sandusky-based Ferndock Brewing Co., said an open-container area would allow a downtown tasting room to enhance his business.

Officials in Fredericksburg, in southcentral Texas, say communities interested in how open-container areas can benefit smaller cities could look to the Main Street district in that town of 10,000-plus residents.

People can stroll and shop there while enjoying beverages from wine-tasting stores, said Penny C. McBride, Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“And at the same time, it promotes our emerging wine industry,” she said.