The push in recent years for open container entertainment districts in Ohio, which would allow people to openly drink alcoholic beverages in designated outdoor public areas, took another step forward this past week. The Ohio Senate passed a bill permitting cities and townships with populations greater than 35,000 to create entertainment districts that are exempt from Ohio’s open container law. The designated entertainment districts could be as large as a half mile square. A similar bill was introduced to the House of Representatives but is not likely to be voted upon until the next session of the General Assembly.
The motivation behind such legislation is to provide a boost in tourism and entertainment spending in Ohio communities a la New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or Beale Street in Memphis. An influx of more visitors, proponents say, would lead to an increased demand for additional residences and retail establishments.
The concept would seem to work well with areas that are strictly restaurants and bars. However, an entertainment district in mixed-used neighborhoods would be faced with some practical challenges. Residents and businesses in an open container environment could be concerned about an increase in disorderly conduct and other criminal behaviors as well as creating rowdy evening crowds. Furthermore, containing the flow of alcohol within the entertainment district would likely necessitate closing streets to vehicular traffic and could result in disruptions to nearby communities and an additional burden on public resources.
There is some precedent for amicable co-existence though. The Banks entertainment district in Cincinnati is home to hundreds of residential units which are situated between two sports venues and above dozens of bars and restaurants. There have been frequent festival closures which have permitted partiers to carry open containers in the streets at the Banks with little disruption to neighborhood residents and businesses.
One thing is for certain, the proposed legislation will leave it up to the individual communities to decide if and where such open container districts are located, thereby giving a voice to all concerned parties. And thoughtful and inclusive planning that gathers input from all concerned parties will be necessary to ensure a successful outcome. Below is an example of the benefits to businesses and the community which entertainment districts can create.