Support, opposition voiced in DORA debate

By Brandon Klein - [email protected]

The owner of downtown Delaware’s Opa Tavern and Grill played a guessing game with City Council at its meeting on Monday.

“Can you please guess what my drink is tonight?” said Genti Koci, who held a paper cup with a lid and straw. Some suggested coffee.

“This is my bourbon tonight,” Koci said. “So who can tell me that this is illegal or not illegal? How can you judge me tonight having a coffee cup or having a regular Venti or drink from Starbucks that can hold a whole bottle of wine and walking (in) downtown Delaware.”

Koci said no one checks people’s beverage containers on a daily basis.

“Here, I have it,” Koci said, holding the cup. “Nobody asked me tonight to know what I’m drinking. Here, this is my bourbon.”

Koci removed the lid to show there was no liquid in the cup.

The spectacle occurred during a public discussion about council’s pending consideration to have a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA, in downtown Delaware, which would allow patrons to stroll and sip alcoholic beverages.

“I promise you we’re not going to get more drunk people,” Koci said. “… We need to educate our members of our community because DORA is not going to be open until 2:30 a.m. in the morning for you to get drunk.”

Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said there’s interest in having the DORA only for special events. The permit would allow patrons to walk around downtown during a festival or other event while carrying an alcoholic beverage. This would free up space at bars and restaurants because some patrons get a seat early and sit there for a few hours, she said.

“What I’m trying to do is something to enhance Delaware,” she said.

A 2015 state law now allows Delaware to have a DORA with at least four permit holders. But the submission of the city’s DORA application to council was put on hold because of concerns from Main Street Delaware.

“When we went over this with Main Street, they had some concerns as what the impact would be of having the liability for people to walk around with alcohol on the DORA, on their insurance because they hold First Fridays,” City Attorney Darren Shulman said.

Main Street Executive Director Susie Bibler said the DORA appeared to be a “wonderful” idea at first, but became a gray issue after further discussion. The nonprofit organization, known for its First Fridays, has made no decision to support or not support the DORA, she said.

Kelsey Scott, Delaware’s economic development specialist, said liability would fall on the businesses selling the alcohol based on discussions with Worthington officials, who established a DORA in their city.

Scott said Worthington’s first event this year with the DORA permit was more successful compared to the same event last year. She said less alcohol was consumed because event goers drank more in an enclosed beer garden last year.

“Their police department sent half of their officers home because the event was so low key,” Scott said. Retail sales increased this year, she added.

Some residents voiced opposition to the DORA because of potential issues with alcohol abuse and its inappropriateness for family-friendly events.

“We went to the zoo today. They’re walking the zoo with a beer. Why do you need a beer for that?” Lauren Eastham said. “I have no problem sitting in the restaurant, sitting on the patios.”

Downtown resident Zane Grady said intoxicated people sometimes wake him up at 3 a.m.

“Is that going to create a better environment for the families and the people who live down here or are we just trying to make it possible for restaurants and bars that already have plenty of seating to make more money on people who are going to buy a beer and wander?” he said.

City officials said Delaware Arts Festival organizers were not interested in the DORA and the new organizers of downtown’s upcoming car show will consider it for next year.

“We can look at other events that we haven’t been able to do in town yet,” said Brian Harpster, the owner of Barley Hopsters bar.

“There’s more we can do with the town with this licensing and it’s gonna bring people in from the outside who just want to check it out and see what it’s like,” he said.

By Brandon Klein

[email protected]

Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.

Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.