With new rules that would allow patrons to drink alcohol outdoors all over downtown Worthington expected to go into effect later this month, business owners said they are ready for a level playing field with other parts of central Ohio.

Worthington City Council on June 5 unanimously approved an amended resolution for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area that establishes boundaries for patrons to walk around with open containers of alcoholic beverages during specified times or events; the alcohol must be purchased at one of the establishments within the DORA.

The amendment made June 5 removed the Worthington Farmers Market from the list of events.

The boundaries of the DORA are in the public rights of way and on properties of participating businesses on High Street between Village Green Drive South and South Street and east to west from 26 E. New England Ave. to 41 W. New England Ave. Signs would be placed along the boundaries of the permitted area to remind people not to leave the area while possessing open containers of alcohol.

The DORA's posted hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Special events would operate under specific rules and be subject to the city's permit process.

City officials also are amending an outdoor-dining policy so restaurants with outdoor seating in public rights of way could allow patrons to drink alcohol outside during their regular liquor-license hours.

Effects of the DORA

The cumulative changes would mean that downtown Worthington could emulate areas like Columbus' Short North, where patio seating and drinking outdoors have become popular.

Ian Brown, owner of the Whitney House, said although the change is not a radical one, it should help Worthington's stature as a central Ohio destination city.

"Outside dining in Columbus is huge; it really does dictate people's decision-making as to where they go to spend an afternoon or evening," he said. "The fact that we will be able to offer the same sort of entertainment as other areas, whether they be a community or a development, is only going to help reaffirm to everyone around the city that Worthington is a great place to be."

Seven other establishments with liquor licenses join Brown and the Whitney House on the list of eligible businesses to operate within the DORA: Dewey's Pizza, Harold's American Grille, House Wine, La Chatelaine, the Old Bag of Nails Pub, A Taste of Vietnam and the Worthington Inn.

Dewey's Pizza manager Darren Van Paris said the change would allow the restaurant to eliminate confusion about allowing drinks on the portion of its patio on private property but banning the drinks on the part in the public right of way.

"We've been kind of in limbo on that," Van Parris said. "It's been difficult to tell people they can't go out there and have a few drinks, especially if there's music playing, which is a big benefit for us. So it's definitely something we're looking forward to."

Market removed

A few residents publicly had questioned the inclusion of the farmers market in previous incarnations of the DORA legislation.

David Robinson testified June 5 about removing the farmers market from the DORA. One day earlier, speaking to ThisWeek on behalf of himself and residents Ellen Scherer and Suzanne Seals, he said he was not opposed to restaurants in the DORA serving drinks in their outdoor dining areas during the market, but the "sip-and-stroll" aspect among the vendors bothered him.

The amendment still would allow those authorized restaurants to serve, but the farmers market no longer would be a DORA event at which people could carry open alcoholic beverages around downtown, Worthington spokeswoman Anne Brown confirmed June 6.

"City Council listened to testimony and voted to make the amendment to withdraw the farmers market as one of the events," she said.

The vote on the amendment was 4-3, with Doug Foust, Scott Myers, Doug Smith and Michael Troper voting in favor and Rachael Dorothy, Bonnie Michael and David Norstrom opposing it.

Robinson said City Council has a "responsibility to get residents' judgment" on whether legislation is appropriate through dialogue with the community.

"I appreciate the council members who listened to the residents and who recognized that good policy needs to rest on support from the broader public," he said.

Robinson said the amendment would allow more time for residents to weigh in on the specific aspects of the DORA proposal because the farmers market is a community event that "should be treated thoughtfully and carefully."

"The residents should be the ones to decide," he said.

What's next

Thus far, Hilliard is the only other central Ohio community of fewer than 35,000 that has established a DORA, which means those involved in Worthington's process largely have been exploring uncharted territory.

Cities in Ohio with a population greater than 35,000 were permitted to establish a DORA when the authorizing legislation became effective April 30, 2015. Cities with a population of fewer than 35,000 -- Worthington's population was just over 13,500 after the 2010 census and currently is estimated at more than 14,500 -- could not establish such a district until April 30, when it is added to the Ohio Revised Code.

The Old Worthington Partnership submitted the official request for the DORA.

"The partnership is sort of being a trailblazer here because we're going to be one of the first communities of our size to enact the (DORA) legislation," said Annina Parini, executive director of the Old Worthington Partnership. "So it's been a real learning process, and the city has been a great partner and willing to take on something like this."

Ian Brown and Van Parris also praised the team of city staff members working on the project. They were led by David McCorkle, the city's economic-development manager.

"This is not a little thing," Brown said. "It would have been very easy for the city to just say, 'No, we're not interested.' The fact that they are adding to their workload in order to bring this benefit to raise the profile of Worthington itself is phenomenal."

McCorkle, who said working on the legislation has represented most of his daily responsibilities for more than a month, said downtown Worthington is thriving, and the legislative changes are just another way to help improve its reputation.

"I think it's already a pretty attractive area; our vacancy rates are pretty low," he said. "It's an area businesses want to be and people want to visit. So I would say it enhances the Worthington experience. The Whitney House, for example, is already a fantastic place to eat or drink, but you can't have a drink outside right now. So it just enhances that experience."

The DORA rules could go into effect for the second edition of Picnic with the Partnership on June 24. The approved DORA resolution must go to the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Liquor Control and the Ohio Department of Public Safety. After that, existing liquor permits would be altered to allow the DORA to take effect.

McCorkle said he expects paperwork to be finished "within a couple weeks" and ready for the June 24 event.

For more information on the DORA, visit worthington.org.

ThisWeek assignment editor Neil Thompson contributed to this story.

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