Outdoor drinking, plaza areas open more entertainment possibilities for Dayton communities

Credit: Staff

Credit: Staff

Downtown Dayton is following in the entertainment footsteps of some surrounding Miami Valley cities as the Oregon District enjoys its second weekend of the new pedestrian plaza and outdoor drinking area.

Last weekend, the Out on 5th pilot program launched, closing a roughly 0.2-mile stretch of East Fifth Street in the Oregon District to create a new pedestrian mall from Friday evenings to Sunday nights through the end of October.

The weekend was also the official launch of Dayton’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). Fifth Street in the Oregon District, and some nearby areas including parts of Wayne Avenue, will now allow people to drink alcohol on the streets and sidewalk.

Ohio lawmakers first legalized outdoor drinking areas in April 2015, and Middletown was the first Ohio city to implement one. After “monumental downtown growth,” Middletown significantly expanded its outdoor drinking area in 2018 to encompass 107 acres.

Shelby Quinlivan, Middletown spokesperson, said events like Middletown’s First Fridays have definitely seen an uptick in attendance because people are able to walk around with beverage in hand.

Though canceled this year due to COVID-19, the Chocolate Walk is a popular Middletown event that has only gotten sweeter thanks to Middletown’s DORA district, Quinlivan said.

“We’ve had up to a thousand women walking around our downtown area with wine in hand,” Quinlivan said. ... “Every year in May, that is a big event downtown that has definitely helped boost business in the downtown area because those women are able to walk around with wine and shop.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Though Dayton is in the infant stages of growing its own DORA program, Downtown Dayton Partnership president Sandy Gudorf is optimistic that the new pedestrian plaza will change downtown’s entertainment experience for the better.

“This whole notion of entertainment is really about the experience,” Gudorf said. “A lot of these trends of creating more inviting outdoor spaces, we call it ‘place making,’ of how to use our outdoor spaces better so people can enjoy them That has been a trend over the last five years or so.”

Dayton planned to begin its DORA program this spring, however, was postponed after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With COVID-19, everybody, not only in Dayton, but all across the country, has really doubled down on this notion of enjoying our public spaces,” Gudorf said. “Because of COVID-19, it really has become a necessity to take advantage of it so that our restaurants, our entertainment options ... can increase capacity.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Due to COVID-19 and the restrictions that have followed for events and festivals, it will likely be some time before Dayton can realize the new DORA district’s full entertainment potential.

Though some community leaders like Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunk have had time to see the effect of a downtown DORA district.

“We started the DORA process back in 2019, so we kind of got through state approval in March and then almost immediately, COVID-19 hit,” Brunka said. “The DORA district was already in place so fortunately, we were able to really use it as a tool.”

Despite this summer’s social distancing guidelines, Lebanon has been able to enjoy new kinds of entertainment like a cross-fit competition within the designated drinking area and a Shakespeare Play in park located within their DORA district.

“I think what you’re going to see is more organizations coming forward and wanting to do programming like that — utilizing some of the park space and green space, trying to encourage folks to come out and either have a drink, enjoy a concert, an outdoor play, you know things of that nature.”

Brunka expects signature Lebanon events like Blues Festival and Country Music Festival to expand in time thanks to their new designated drinking area.

“Some people think it’s all about the drinking and that’s not the case,” Gudorf said. "It’s just another way to enjoy and experience (downtown spaces).

In October, Lebanon has a unique event planned to utilize its DORA district in order to make the most of an unusual school year.

“We will be closing down a street (on Oct. 2) and showing the final Lebanon High School football game on an outdoor screen so folks can come downtown and enjoy some food and beverages while they watch the game,” Brunka said.

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

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Though it’s not certain what the future of the Oregon District’s Out on 5th program looks like, it seems that walk-able beverages could be here to stay.

“We’re going to run it every weekend through the end of October and then everybody will re-evaluate and decide what’s next,” Gudorf said.

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