Designated outdoor refreshment areas (DORA) have become increasingly common throughout communities across the state, and during Monday’s meeting of the Liberty Township Board of Trustees, a resolution was heard to approve the application for a DORA within the township.
A DORA permits alcoholic beverages purchased from participating businesses and contained within specially-marked cups to be carried outside of the business as well as into other businesses within the designated area.
Particularly over the past year, as restaurants and bars struggled to survive amidst COVID-19 restrictions, DORAs have presented a viable option for businesses to attract patrons to the area while also increasing drink sales despite a reduced customer base.
The City of Delaware first approved its DORA in 2017 under the stipulation that it only be for special events but has since made the DORA a permanent fixture in its downtown district. The City of Powell approved its DORA in 2019 for special events and then extended the hours of the DORA last year.
“Using this since 2020 as an economic development tool has been something that has really shown to be very favorable to townships and municipalities as a whole across the state of Ohio,” Township Administrator Mike Schuiling said during Monday’s meeting.
Schuiling said conversations with Powell City Manager Andrew White about Powell’s DORA will have been beneficial to Liberty Township in avoiding any potential “pitfalls” associated with the proposed DORA. He added that regulations state the township’s DORA can’t be combined with Powell’s DORA, but the township tried to get the two as close together as possible. “We think we did a very good job of capturing as many establishments as possible,” Schuiling said.
Trustee Bryan Newell commended the efforts of Schuiling and his team, with whom he met with last Friday to discuss the DORA, and he said what was presented to the board on Monday was “miles away from where we were on Friday.”
Newell said much of the discussion last week was to make sure that patrons entering businesses that don’t sell alcohol for consumption but do sell food within the DORA could still do so without having to do away with their drinks “before they cross an imaginary line.”
“I think they’ve done a good job of capturing most of the spaces and the properties that would have some sort of establishment that could benefit from this, whether it’s food sales or drink sales. The rest that were left out are primarily office buildings,” Newell said.
As many as 30 businesses that currently exist within the proposed boundaries would be eligible to participate in the DORA.
Schuiling said there are open spaces within the DORA boundaries that represent park spaces where drinks will be permitted to be consumed. He added there is room for the DORA to be extended at any time as the township grows, saying the DORA is at 99 acres of the maximum 150 acres permitted for a DORA.
Hours for the DORA have been originally proposed to be from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday and from noon to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Schuiling said the hours mirror what exists for the city of Powell’s established DORA. The possibility of extending Saturday hours to coincide with late Ohio State football games was also discussed, although reception of the idea varied. Schuiling pointed out the hours can always be amended in the future if desired.
Schuiling also recommended to the board that the township purchase the initial inventory of plastic cups to be used for drinks in the DORA as a way to show the township is invested in the DORA. He said the initial number of cups is estimated to cost $800.
“I think it’s very important to take the stance that this is the township working to help, through economic development efforts, our residents and businesses … I think as a measure of goodwill and good faith, and to show how engaged we are with our township businesses, I think that should be an exception to this process.”
However, without a specific number of cups needed not yet know, nor pricing for those cups available, that price could far exceed the original estimate. The trustees were not yet ready to commit to the gesture, and Schuiling said he would get back to the trustees with a more accurate price figure.
The resolution will need to come back to the trustees for a final decision within 30-45 days following the posting of the application. Schuiling said the goal is to get the DORA approved as quickly as possible “to capture the end of the summer into the OSU football season.”