Extended DORA set in Powell with safety at forefront

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
ThisWeek group

How does a city hold an event designed to bring people together during a pandemic in which isolation and social distance are key?

That's the question Powell's civic and business leaders have been mulling as they prepare for the next DORA event, set Friday, Aug. 14, and the DORA's expansion to regular weekend hours.

The DORA, or Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, allows specified holders of liquor licenses to fill specially marked cups that patrons may take out of the establishments and among the locations along streets and in other public spaces within the designated area. Ohio municipalities have been allowed to create DORAs since 2015, with Powell leaders approving it last year. The city's first DORA event was held June 27 and 28 as a substitute for the Powell Festival, canceled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

An event made to bring more people into downtown restaurants and shops is, in many ways, incompatible with health guidelines -- social distancing in particular. The city has wrestled with how best to enact its DORA and protect residents, as well.

The Aug. 14 DORA will be in effect from 4 to 10 p.m. It will continue during the same hours each Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through the end of September.

The hope is that having regular DORA hours will both minimize the "event" atmosphere of the original DORA and spread out the number of patrons in the downtown throughout the weekend, city spokeswoman Megan Canavan told council's development committee at its Aug. 4 virtual meeting.

Councilman and development committee member Brian Lorenz expressed a similar sentiment to council members during the Aug. 4 meeting.

"If we think of (the DORA) as a tool to be used on a weekly basis, due to the normalcy, it should spread out the attendance," Lorenz said.

Prohibition Gastro Lounge co-owner Elton Sargent said he thought there were aspects of the first DORA for which he and his business were unprepared. He said those reasons were significant enough to advocate for the delay of another DORA until they could be resolved.

"The DORA in itself is an amazing tool for us, especially in this time (of pandemic)," Sargent said. "The first DORA had a party-like atmosphere to it, which created a certain environment. Moving forward, we wanted to do what we can to assure it's done properly, letting participants know what's expected and creating an atmosphere where social distancing is the norm. We should show people we've put thought and effort into providing a safe experience."

Toward that end, Prohibition will add outdoor seating in its adjacent parking lot. It also will continue a practice it had adopted during the first DORA, offering a drink-specific line away from the building to promote distancing.

City Manager Andrew White told council members he did not expect an additional police presence for the purpose of enforcing health guidelines during the DORA.

"Many of the establishments have their own protocols in place to monitor and control social distancing," Canavan said. "The city has the ability to request an establishment not participate in a planned DORA if social distancing becomes an issue at their establishment.

"At the request of a business owner, the police department can charge an individual with criminal trespassing if the patron fails to cooperate with the owner's request to adhere to social-distancing protocols or leave their establishment," she said.

White said the city likely would not add picnic tables or any type of seating in public spaces in order to reduce the number of surfaces that need to be sanitized.

The city plans to install hand-sanitizing stations and additional signs related to DORA policies, he said.

"The DORA is considered safe with the caveat that individuals promote responsibility, including wearing masks and social distancing," White said. "We'd like to have a routine that's safe and beneficial to the downtown."

Delaware General Health District health commissioner Shelia Hiddleson addressed health guidelines during the virtual council meeting, calling the DORA a way for a community to be both social and safe.

"With the (state's) mandated mask order, if you're outside and socially distant at 6 feet, no mask is needed," she said. "But if you're not eating or drinking, you should please wear a mask if you can."

"My stance on this," Lorenz said, "has always been (that) this comes down to personal responsibility. People should be respectful.

"As a city, we want to make sure to communicate a message clearly about expectations but, at the same time, not be overbearing. We need to all be on the same page."

Canavan said the city would continue to evaluate the DORA moving forward and make changes as necessary.

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