City of Marietta Reviews Proposal for Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA)
After months of planning and coordination, Marietta Main Street in partnership with Mayor Josh Schlicher of the City of Marietta have submitted a request for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) in downtown Marietta to Marietta City Council. If passed, Marietta would join dozens of other communities across the state with designated areas where patrons of legal drinking age can purchase alcoholic beverages and carry them outdoors.
While pursuing a DORA for downtown Marietta has been discussed in years past, the idea resurfaced last spring as local restaurants struggled to stay afloat during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposal has the support of downtown businesses and key stakeholders within the Marietta community, including the Marietta-Washington County CVB, Marietta College, and the Peoples Bank Theatre.
“We are convinced that a DORA in Marietta would not only increase foot traffic downtown and tourism to our town but also sales for both retailers and bars/restaurants alike,” said Cristie Thomas, Executive Director of Marietta Main Street. “Downtown Marietta is a driving force of our local economy, our City’s quality of life, a hub of the arts and entrepreneurship and so much more. Enacting a DORA will further bolster the strength of our community.”
What is a DORA?
A DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area) is a specifically designated area that allows patrons over the age of 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages from a permitted establishment and carry them within a clearly defined area within the City. Established in April 2015 by Section 4301.82 of the Ohio Revised Code, it creates an exemption from the Open Container Law. Under the statute, a person who purchases beer or intoxicating liquor from the holder of a permit with a DORA designation is permitted to have that beverage in an open container at any outdoor location within the DORA.
One of the most attractive qualities of the process of creating a DORA is that it is highly customizable to our own community.Cristie Thomas, Marietta Main Street
In many communities, all DORA drinks are required to be provided and consumed in designated and approved DORA cups, or patrons are required to purchase wrist bands or other identifiers in order to purchase a DORA beverage. As such, a DORA is not a complete undoing of the Open Container Law – only a structured exemption. All DORA drinks are also required to be provided only by designated and participating bars and restaurants within the proposed DORA boundary; patrons are not able to bring their own beverages into the DORA district.
While some communities have a DORA that operates at all times, most are restricted to certain days and times. No two DORAs are exactly alike. “While we believe there are many benefits a DORA would provide to our city – certainly not the least of these benefits is increased revenue for small businesses – one of the most attractive qualities of the process of creating a DORA is that it is highly customizable to our own community,” said Thomas. “There are over 30 DORAs in the state of Ohio and each takes its own shape to reflect its community.”
What would this look like in Marietta?
Marietta Main Street and the City of Marietta are initially proposing to enact a DORA on Friday and Saturday nights from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. within the designated boundary only, with the utility of branded, approved DORA cups as a key element of managing the DORA along with organized sanitation and support from local law enforcement to ensure public safety. All retailers and restaurants within the boundary will be provided an option to participate in the DORA based on business type, with branded signage to aid in enforcing the rules for Marietta’s DORA.
As a rule of the proposed DORA, all DORA drinks will be required to be provided and consumed in designated and approved DORA Cups. No cans, glass bottles, or outside drinks will be permitted within the DORA, and DORA drinks from one establishment will not be permitted inside another DORA establishment. Those wishing to drink a DORA beverage will pay a $1 fee on top of the cost of the drink to receive the DORA cup.
It would also provide revenue that we plan to reinvest in downtown development projects through Enrich Marietta.Cristie Thomas, Marietta Main Street
Marietta’s DORA would be managed by Marietta Main Street in partnership with the City of Marietta. Profits from the DORA would support the continued revitalization of downtown Marietta through a 10% administrative fee to Marietta Main Street, with the remaining 90% being allocated to a local match for Enrich Marietta priorities and projects.
“Not only would DORA contribute to an increase in the liquor sales tax that supports our state and, as a side effect, sales tax that supports our local economy but it would also provide revenue that we plan to reinvest in downtown development projects through Enrich Marietta, including enhancements to downtown like riverfront development, Post Street beautification, outdoor recreation, arts & culture and more.”
Local support is high
An initial survey conducted by Marietta Main Street of downtown businesses last spring found that 88% of 34 respondents indicated that they supported the creation of DORA. Local restaurant owners expressed excitement, hopeful that a DORA would aid in recovery from the financial losses caused by the pandemic and last year’s forced shutdown. Nearly a year later, the excitement is still there.
“While we haven’t experienced pre-COVID life as a downtown Marietta restaurant owner, we believe the DORA would be a revenue booster and is bound to help lessen the losses so many of us sustained during the pandemic,” said Whitney Cruells, owner of 740 Social which opened downtown last summer.
The novelty of it would hopefully bring more people to Marietta and get more people hooked on our incredible downtown!Whitney Cruells, 740 Social
“It’s such a fun feeling being able to walk down the street with your drink in hand, enjoying the sunshine. A DORA would encourage people to linger downtown and spend more time exploring our many shops,” said Cruells. “The novelty of it would hopefully bring more people to Marietta and get more people hooked on our incredible downtown!”
While some retailers have decided not to allow DORA drinks inside their establishment, the overall sentiment is still positive. “I think the DORA could definitely be a great thing for the downtown businesses!” one business owner shared in response to the survey. “Although we would not allow DORA drinks in our facility due to the nature of our business, I do think it would be a great way to increase foot traffic downtown.”
A more recent survey conducted by Marietta Main Street this month asks the public to weigh in and share whether or not they would support a DORA as well as any questions they might have. So far, more than 650 local residents have responded, with over 97% saying they are in support of downtown Marietta becoming a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area as proposed.
This is such a lovely idea for Marietta. Not only additional revenue for our downtown businesses but where we can better socially distance and be outdoors!Area Resident, Survey Response
“I believe that this is an opportunity to bring growth to our city. Outdoor arts will grow. Shops will see improved sales. The outlined plan will benefit many,” shared one local resident in response to the survey. “This is such a lovely idea for Marietta. Not only additional revenue for our downtown businesses but where we can better socially distance and be outdoors!” shared another.
One Parkersburg resident said that she believes the benefits would expand beyond the city of Marietta. “I think DORA would be an amazing opportunity to expand business in downtown Marietta,” she said. “It will add more appeal to events like First Friday and it would draw people in from all over the Mid-Ohio Valley.”
“This is a wonderful idea to enhance business in our beautiful downtown area,” shared one Marietta resident. “We are so fortunate to have the beautiful scenery along the river and this would be a great way to boost our local economy and enhance the outdoor atmosphere in our community.”
While the majority favor the proposal, several residents expressed concerns. Concerns include an increase in underage drinking and increased trash littering downtown.
“With a DORA, downtown bars and restaurants are held to the same guidelines they always are to ensure safety of their guests, check IDs, and not over serve alcohol to patrons,” said Thomas. “And, we choose the days and times for DORA to be active; for example, by ending DORA at 10:00 p.m., we reduce the likelihood that DORA drinks will be abused in late-night social gatherings.”
If enacted, the establishment of the DORA would include a public sanitation plan to make sure all DORA cups are disposed of properly.
“In preparing for the DORA proposal, we reached out to other DORA communities to ask if trash was a concern. I have yet to hear that it is, but even so, with the sanitation plan proposed we’re confident that we will maintain a clean and safe environment during DORA,” said Thomas. “Through the surveying process, we’ve received a few questions and comments about using recyclable cups or providing recycling options. We are currently looking into biodegradable, compostable, and/or recycling options and hope to identify a solution. Reusable cups are not an option.”
For Thomas, the benefits of having a DORA in Marietta are clear. “A DORA would enhance the atmosphere downtown by allowing drinks to be enjoyed within the business district, thus enabling visitors to stay longer and spend more money in our community,” she said. “Compared to other cities in Ohio, activating a DORA in Marietta would set our town apart by enhancing the visitor experience, serving as a selling point for increased tourism and by providing a tool for economic development when leveraged to encourage additional small businesses to open downtown.”
Successful across the state
More than 36 communities in Ohio actively benefit from a DORA. Communities include Akron, Bellefontaine, Bowling Green, Canton, Chillicothe, Columbiana, Defiance, Delaware, Fairborn, Grove City, Hamilton, Hilliard, Kent, Lancaster, Lebanon, Liberty Center, Lorain, Loveland, Louisville, Lyndhurst, Marysville, Mason, Middletown, Milford (Belmont Cty.), Milford (Clermont Cty.), Napolean, New Richmond, Oxford, Port Clinton, Powell, Shaker Heights, Springfield, Sylvania, Tiffin, Toledo, and Worthington.
I don’t know of any incidents in the entire DORA district that have been reported, so it’s really been a blessing for us.Jim Goodman, Municipal Brew Works
The oldest DORA in Ohio is located in Middletown, enacted five years ago. An article in the Butler County Journal News published last May quoted downtown bar and restaurant owners crediting DORA with allowing them to retain their employees during COVID-19. Since enacting DORA, Hamilton has sold “tens of thousands of cups” as cited by the City of Hamilton’s Economic Development Specialist.
Jim Goodman, owner of Municipal Brew Works in Hamilton, Ohio, also credited his city’s DORA as a major factor in his business’ survival during the pandemic. “The benefits of it have been amazing,” he said in an interview with the Butler County Journal News. “We’ve gone through thousands and thousands of cups since its inception, and I don’t know of any incidents in the entire DORA district that have been reported, so it’s really been a blessing for us.”
Mallory Greenham, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Hamilton, has seen firsthand the impact the DORA has made on the city’s business district. “Pre-COVID, the DORA served as an amazing economic development tool for our business district,” she said. “The ability to take a drink to-go helped keep patrons mobile, especially during special events and sunny days. Visitors to the district were able to take in more sites, visit more businesses, and ultimately spend more money.”
“During COVID, the DORA became a survival tool,” she continued. “It provided a socially distant way to serve patrons, and a safe way for people to get out of the house. I see it continuing to be crucial to the ongoing success of our small businesses.”
One downtown Marietta business has a second location in Grove City, Ohio, where a DORA is already in place. After reaching out to Grove City for information on how the DORA has impacted their downtown, she reported back that participating businesses in the DORA experienced an 18% increase in retail sales and a 26% increase in bar and restaurant sales. Similar reports have been shared from other Ohio communities as well.
Marietta Main Street and Marietta Mayor Josh Schlicher have presented Marietta City Council with their request to establish a DORA as proposed. Prior to a vote, the public is invited to attend one of two public hearings hosted by Marietta Main Street in partnership with the City of Marietta. Both public hearings are at 6:00 p.m. and are hosted in-person in Room 10 of the Armory on Front Street in downtown Marietta as well as virtually via Zoom on Facebook Live via the City of Marietta’s Facebook Page. The hearings are scheduled for today, Monday, March 22nd and Monday, March 29th.
Marietta Main Street also invites the community to continue to share feedback and support via this survey, shared on their website alongside more information about the proposed DORA.
Community stakeholders are optimistic, hopeful that the community will be able to benefit from having a DORA in place.
“Marietta has the opportunity to enhance its already attractive downtown by making it a premiere entertainment destination,” said Hunt Brawley, Executive Director of the Peoples Bank Theatre. “With the number of existing live entertainment options in the downtown area, the DORA district will make Marietta an even more attractive destination for visitors.”
A DORA in downtown Marietta could greatly expand our tourism footprint in the region.Deana Clark, Marietta-Washington County CVB
It would be especially nice, said Hunt, to increase the nighttime activity on Putnam Street where the theatre sits and create a bit of a theatre district with the Peoples Bank Theatre on one side and the MOVP on the other.
Deana Clark, Executive Director of the Marietta-Washington County CVB, said the CVB sees real potential for this initiative as downtown Marietta is a safe, attractive, historic town. “To my knowledge, Marietta would be the only downtown in the southeast Ohio region to have that designation. A DORA in downtown Marietta could greatly expand our tourism footprint in the region,” she said. “Marietta is poised for great things.”
For more information on the proposed DORA for downtown Marietta, click here. To share your feedback, click here to complete a brief survey.
The public is invited to attend one of two upcoming public hearings hosted by Marietta Main Street in partnership with the City of Marietta. Both public hearings are at 6 p.m. and are hosted in-person in Room 10 of the Armory on Front Street in downtown Marietta and virtually via Zoom on Facebook Live via the City of Marietta’s Facebook Page. The dates are Monday, March 22nd and Monday, March 29th.