Dayton moves closer to approving large downtown drinking district

Dayton could be less than week away from approving a new outdoor drinking district that is more than nine times the size of the current one and that covers most of downtown.

If approved, the new drinking district could launch in mid-June, and some bar and restaurant owners say they strongly support the proposal and think this would be a big deal for downtown.

The Dayton City Commission this week decided to move forward with the first reading of legislation that would replace Dayton’s current Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) with a new one. A vote on whether to approve the proposal could take place next week.

Dayton’s current outdoor drinking district spans about 40 acres and mainly consists of the Oregon District business strip on East Fifth Street.

The new proposed DORA would cover 390 acres, and most of downtown would be inside of the new boundaries.

Inside DORA boundaries, people can purchase alcohol in special cups that they can take outside and drink on the street. Visitors to the Oregon District often can be seen strolling around with a drink in hand.

The Downtown Dayton Partnership submitted a petition for a new outdoor drinking district in March.

The organization said the current Oregon District DORA is very popular and many businesses in other parts of downtown want to get in on the action.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The expansion of Dayton’s outdoor drinking district was identified by a small business stakeholder group as the top priority for helping downtown businesses recover from the pandemic, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“They felt that this is something that they wanted and they needed,” she said. Businesses “are still struggling, and so we see this as another initiative to really help our businesses.”

She said this is not about wild partying in the street — that DORAs contribute to vibrancy and improve the overall downtown experience. Businesses that participate in DORA will be required to sign “good neighbor” agreements.

Gudorf said there is still some confusion surrounding DORA, because many people get it mixed up with Out on 5th.

Out on 5th is a program that shuts down Fifth Street in the Oregon District to vehicular traffic on the weekends during warm weather months.

DORA just allows people to drink outdoors — it has nothing to do with street closures.

Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said Dayton is in competition with other communities and the city should be doing everything it can to be as competitive as possible, to bring people downtown.

Cities of Dayton’s size are allowed to have up to six outdoor drinking areas, each of which can be one-square mile (640 acres), said Tony Kroeger, Dayton’s division manager of planning and land use. Ohio is home to more than 120 refreshment areas already, he said.

Other cities, like Toledo, started with fairly compact DORAs but then later decided to expand them to cover most of their downtowns. Gudorf and others said they looked at best practices in other communities with downtown DORAs, and those communities did not report having major issues with public safety and trash in their drinking districts.

Half a dozen people spoke in favor of the new downtown drinking district during a public hearing on Wednesday.

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