Columbus aims for September opening of Arena District outdoor beverage area after council gives OK

Joe Dandron
The Columbus Dispatch
Here's a map of the new Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, or DORA, in the Columbus Arena District.  The boundaries extend from North Front Street westward along West Nationwide Boulevard to Field, home of the MLS Champion Columbus Crew, with a few small extensions to the north.

The Arena District will be home to Columbus' first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) after the City Council on Monday unanimously approved legislation setting boundaries and times for open consumption of adult beverages there.

Councilmember Emmanuel Remy reminded Monday that DORA users will need to be respectful as some residents living within and near the designated area are concerned about the potential for noise, trash and drunken behavior that it could bring to that part of the city. 

 "My office received a great deal of correspondence," Councilmember Emmanuel Remy said. "Especially as it relates to its (the DORAs) boundaries."

More:  What is a DORA? 

Patrons 21 and older who purchase an alcoholic beverage from a DORA-designated liquor permit holder can leave the permit premises with that beverage in a designated DORA cup and continue consuming it within that area during designated times.

The DORA largely runs along West Nationwide Boulevard from North Front Street west past Nationwide Arena and Huntington Park to Field, the new home of the Columbus Crew. 

It also extends north along Neil Avenue to Express Live and includes a small green space across from Huntington Park, the plaza east of Nationwide Arena and the walkway north of the plaza up to the R Bar, the pre- and post-game hockey hangout for many Blue Jackets fans. 

The public drinking area would be active three hours before every scheduled home Blue Jackets, Clippers, and Crew game and continuing until 11:59 p.m. that day.

DORAs boundaries changed after hearing neighbors' concerns

The DORA's original proposed boundaries were changed by the city after residents such as those living in the Burnham Square and Parks Edge condominiums expressed concerns about drinking causing problems in their neighborhood. 

"I attended a community conversation with residents of these communities, in-person, to hear their concerns," Remy said Monday night. "Following this discussion my team and I reviewed footage from the public hearing, read through the petitions and discussed the community conversation ... I also discussed these concerns with my council colleagues and the mayor's administration to advocate for the requests of the residents.

"After careful consideration, we have decided to remove (some) areas from the DORA: McPherson's, Commons Park, Neil Avenue, South of Nationwide Boulevard, New Public Lane, Parks Edge Place, Spring Street and West Street."

An aerial shot of a portion of Columbus' Arena District, showing Nationwide Arena (top left) and Huntington Park (foreground) with the city's Downtown skyline in the distance.

Numerous communities around Ohio and in Columbus suburbs have already established DORAs, such as Bexley, Dublin, Gahanna, Grove City, Hilliard, Powell, Westerville, Whitehall and Worthington.

Cities and towns turned to the refreshment areas to provide an assist to bars and restaurants as the coronavirus pandemic made customers wary of indoor dining and drinking. Infectious disease experts say the virus spreads more effectively indoors.

More: Central Ohio cities embrace designated outdoor drinking areas

What's next for the Arena District DORA plan?

The planned Arena District DORA must now undergo a legal review by the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, which checks the city's ordinance, DORA boundaries, and other factors for compliance with state laws controlling size and other factors.

As long as the DORA documents meet the minimal legal requirements, the state records the DORA’s boundaries in its liquor permitting system and affixes a DORA designation on the permit of any current or future qualifying permit holders within the DORA.

Columbus' previously stated goal is to get the Arena District DORA in operation before the end of September, in time for the Blue Jackets regular season.

How this DORA functions will be studied by the city to determine any changes and any future DORAs. Under state law, the number of DORAs is based on a community's population. Columbus can have a total of four.

Some communities have changed the areas or hours of operation for existing DORAs based on their individual circumstances, including expanding some based on their success.

What do Arena District bars and restaurants think?

The reaction from the businesses owners in the district range from enthusiastic support to ambivalence. Everyone expects to sell more alcohol, but the size of the expected sales bump depends on who you ask.

"We're not 100% certain what to expect," said Alec Mizer, manager of Ted's Montana Grill, 191 W. Nationwide Blvd. 

Mizer said the restaurant and bar spent the past year and a half adjusting to COVID restrictions and shifting customer expectations, and this is just one more thing they have to get used to.

"We want to participate anyway we can," he said, but Ted's isn't yet sure what that participation will look like.

Tim Emery, who owns Boston's Gourmet Pizza, located in the same building at 191 W. Nationwide Blvd., foresees a modest bump in alcohol sales, but doesn't think a DORA will bring more customers to his restaurant and sports bar.

"If someone is going to a Crew game, they might buy another beer they can drink while they walk to the stadium, but they were going to come anyway," Emery said.

"It's nice, but it's not going to help me retire early," he added.

The restaurant owner stressed that he supports the DORA, but noted that the path of the refreshment area includes mostly restaurants, and likely won't replicate the lively atmosphere of the Short North or Park Street.

The management at Nada, an upscale Latin-inspired restaurant and bar at 220 W. Nationwide Blvd., is brainstorming ways to add a carryout drink station to accommodate customers walking to Columbus Crew, Blue Jackets, or Clippers games.

"We are one of the last spots for a drink before the 10-minute walk to the Crew stadium," said Caitlin Robinson, general manager for the Boca Restaurant Group, which is based in Cincinnati and operates Nada.

Sports are already a boon for Nada, with the bar and restaurant regularly at capacity prior to games, Robinson said. Carryout drinks provide a way for Nada to boost sales even when every seat is full.

"Maybe being able to wander with an adult beverage will entice guests to make their trip more leisurely and spread out instead of a big rush to park, eat, and go to the game," she added.