With one patio season in the books and another on its way, Worthington's new Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area has received high marks from city and business leaders.
The DORA was approved last June; it established boundaries for patrons to walk around with open containers of alcoholic beverages during specified times or events.
The boundaries of the DORA are in public rights of way and on properties of participating businesses on High Street, from Village Green Drive South to South Street and east to west from 26 E. New England Ave. to 41 W. New England Ave.
The DORA's posted hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Special events operate under specific rules and are subject to the city's permit process.
With approval of the DORA, the city also amended 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.
According to Old Worthington Partnership executive director Annina Parini, all those changes have led to "about a 10 percent bump in sales due to the outdoor dining piece of the DORA."
The rules originally applied to eight Old Worthington businesses, but Harold's American Grille closed at the end of 2017, leaving seven applicable DORA establishments: Dewey's Pizza, House Wine, La Chatelaine, the Old Bag of Nails Pub, A Taste of Vietnam, the Whitney House and the Worthington Inn.
And although each of those establishments take advantage of the DORA rules in different ways, Parini said, the new rules have helped them all.
"It's a combination," she said. "Dewey's and Old Bag of Nails have always had outdoor seating options, but they were able to enhance their offerings. And then in the case of the Whitney House, that was an all-new offering.
"The event piece of it is able to help the other merchants, like La Chatelaine or House Wine. They're able to offer beverages to go during those events."
Whitney House owner Ian Brown said he's a "huge fan" of the DORA rules and how they've been implemented, and said the change in regulations meant his business didn't need to put an obtrusive fence next to its patio patrons.
"In retrospect, I can't think of anything at this point that needs to be changed about it, other than having our guests in our community be a little more familiar with it and comfortable with it," he said. "I know there was concern that every day was a sip-and-stroll kind of day, and that certainly wasn't the case."
If every day had been a "sip-and-stroll kind of day," it likely would have caused more problems for the Worthington Division of Police, but Chief Jerry Strait said his officers saw virtually no issues related to the DORA.
"From our perspective, so far, it's been very successful," he said.
Strait said the only issue he had encountered has been the occasional vendor who thought the DORA parameters allowed anyone to sell liquor, rather than only those who had a permit. He said officers quickly educated those businesses.
"I think some people thought just because they were within that area, this was an acceptable practice," he said.
Councilman David Robinson said he was wary about the DORA when it was proposed, specifically because of the original suggestion to include the Worthington Farmers Market in the list of DORA-supported events.
Ultimately, the farmers market was removed from consideration.
Since the adoption of the DORA, Robinson said, he did not have any complaints and has come to appreciate the outdoor dining.
"Street-level dining is a real asset for the city, and I would like to see more of it," he said.
David McCorkle, Worthington's economic-development manager, helped coordinate creation of the DORA.
He said city leaders have seen no reason to implement changes and it has run even more smoothly than expected.
"From the city's perspective, it's elevated the events and, I think, made them more enjoyable," McCorkle said. "We originally started with more of a (police) presence, having special-duty officers attend initial events. But we've kind of tapered off of that to the point where at the most recent event, the Chocolate Walk, we did not have special-duty officers assigned to it."
McCorkle said he's heard a similar figure to Parini's 10 percent growth figure "anecdotally," but even without the sales figures, listening to merchants and implementing the DORA served to show that the city wants to give "any advantage or opportunity we can give to our downtown businesses to help them succeed" and compete with neighborhoods like Columbus' Short North or Uptown Westerville.
"It's shown that the city can be flexible and can respond to some of the downtown business needs," he said. "We were hearing that the Whitney House, for example, was in the process of spending a lot of money to get a fence where they were going to have to fence in their outdoor dining area.
"Not only was that costly, but it was going to be obtrusive to the sidewalk. So what (the DORA) is doing is allowing the downtown to kind of stay open. People can freely move around. And it's giving them one additional tool to attract visitors."
Worthington City Council built in an option to the rules to allow tweaks and changes after a year of the DORA being in place, but McCorkle, Parini and Brown all said they would be surprised to see changes.
"I don't foresee any changes or tweaks coming," McCorkle said. "It's run pretty smoothly in its first year or so."
Along with Hilliard and Delaware, Worthington is one of a few central Ohio cities to adopt DORA rules.
Because of that, Parini said, she and McCorkle have been asked to speak to other cities and neighborhood groups interested in implementing the same thing.
"We were really sort of the trailblazers in the small community arena to start this," she said. "Worthington is on the map in other communities."
With competition among central Ohio's various downtown neighborhoods as hot as ever, McCorkle said, he's been happy to give Old Worthington businesses one more edge.
"We already had a pretty good downtown," he said. "I think it's made it a little bit more vibrant and has been an attraction for folks to come and have a night out."