By Sydney Dawes
Athens NEWS Editor
Athens City Council in regular session on Monday passed an ordinance to limit open-container restrictions Uptown and allow patrons to bring alcoholic beverages out of bars.
Council heard a proposal in May from the Athens Uptown Business Association (AUBA) that lobbied the body to create designated outdoor refreshment areas, or DORAs.
DORAs has been adopted by many cities across Ohio 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 the initial 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.
Thomas, a driving force behind the DORA provision and also a person leading the charge in the city’s parklet program, was inspired by other cities who use DORAs.
Within the model pitched to City Council, 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, The Athens NEWS previously reported.
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 nearby Chillicothe, permit businesses to post color-coded markers on their doors to communicate which accept alcohol inside.
City Council suspended the rules to pass the ordinance immediately. The ordinance was introduced by all members of City Council.
“This is definitely a good way to sample this, to get a little bit of a handle on what we think will be happening next summer,” Thomas said. She noted AUBA worked with Ohio University students to study how cities utilize DORAs and what obstacles these cities may have needed to address for the provision.
Art Oestrike, the owner of Jackie O’s and a speaker at the June 21 City Council meeting, noted that the introduction of the program even for a brief period of time could allow for the city to see if the provision is a good fit.
“I think this could give us time to play with something that could be awesome for Athens,” Oestrike said.
Thomas told The NEWS in an interview that she also hopes a DORA could encourage bars to install parklets in the street outside their respective establishments, like Brenen’s did in 2020 during the parklet pilot program, to attract patrons looking to sit Uptown with their drinks.
President of Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Dani Underhill noted that several businesses have voiced to the chamber that they were anticipating participation in the city’s parklet program if the DORA provision were to pass.
Nearly the entire Uptown district will be included within the DORA, including portions of Mill Street, West Union Street, Depot Street and Station Street, with clearly marked signs designating boundaries. Council amended its ordinance during its meeting to reflect the proposal drafted by AUBA.
Councilmember Chris Fahl noted that the DORA model can be updated to fit needs of the community.
“Because we are coming out of COVID, I think it will help to build community and help to get people out in a nice, outdoor sort of thing,” said Fahl.