Halloween in Athens

Uptown Athens. Photo by Ben Peters.

Athens City Council in committee on Monday heard a proposal from the Athens Uptown Business Association (AUBA) that lobbied the body to approve legislation that would limit open container restrictions Uptown and allow patrons to bring alcoholic beverages out of bars and onto the streets.

The provision, called a designated outdoor refreshment area, or a DORA, has been adopted by many cities across Ohio, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said, and could give Athens the ability to finely adjust open container laws at the discretion of city leaders, allowing for example outdoor drinking only in certain zones during select seasons of the year.

Jessica Thomas, co-owner of Brenen’s Coffee Cafe and chair of AUBA, suggested during a presentation to the body that Athens approve a DORA during the summer months between the week Ohio University students move out of town and welcome weekend when the fall semester begins — a time interval when Athens is significantly less populous and Uptown doesn’t see as much business activity than during the academic year.

“We’re thinking this isn’t just a COVID reaction, but more of a long term plan to make Athens and Athens Uptown just a place people want to be,” Thomas said.

Nearly every member of Council voiced support for moving forward with a DORA, and Patterson said his conversations with Chillicothe Mayor Luke Feeney indicated that the move proved to be a boon for the city.

Within the model Thomas suggested Council adopt, all businesses with a liquor permit would have the option to participate in the DORA. Each could sell cups that patrons are able take outside the bar, out into the streets and possibly into other non-drinking establishments.

Non-drinking establishments would have the option to allow patrons carrying an open alcoholic beverage into their business. Other cities that have a DORA, like Chillicothe, permit businesses to post color coded markers on their doors to communicate which accept alcohol inside.

Thomas said she also hopes a DORA could encourage bars to install parklets in the street outside their respective establishments, like Brenen’s did in 2020, to attract patrons who want to drink outdoors.

Thomas’ proposal, created in concert with President of Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Dani Underhill, suggests that nearly the entire Uptown district be included within the DORA, including portions of Mill Street, West Union Street, Depot Street and Station Street, with clearly marked signs designating boundaries.

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