Ohio bill would allow open-container areas in cities
CINCINNATI — In the vein of the Las Vegas Strip and the streets of New Orleans, two Ohio lawmakers want the state's biggest cities to have entertainment districts where revelers can take their alcoholic drinks outdoors.
A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Sen. Eric Kearney proposes to allow cities with more than 50,000 residents to set up designated areas exempt from Ohio's state law against open containers.
That could mean open containers in Cincinnati's popular Over-the-Rhine historic neighborhood, Cleveland's struggling waterfront area known as The Flats, the Arena District in Columbus and the area around downtown Toledo's Mud Hens stadium.
But 11 other Ohio cities would be able to form such open-container districts under the bill, including Akron, Canton, Parma, Youngstown, Dayton, Hamilton and Springfield, among others.
If it gains enough support, the bill could pass in the summer, but more likely in the fall, and would go into effect by year's end.
“This would allow a festival atmosphere, an open atmosphere, much like the one on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Beale Street in Memphis,” Kearney said on Friday.
Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, said he got the idea for the bill from his staffers, who are largely in their 20s.
The bill stipulates that alcohol must be bought within a given district — not brought from the outside — and limits the size of the districts to a squared half-mile.
Kearney said cities would not be required to allow open containers anywhere, but the bill gives them the freedom to do so and the authority to decide where such districts could go.
The bill would allow cities with populations of 50,000 to 150,000 people, such as Dayton and Canton, to form one such district. Cities of 150,000 to 300,000 people — like Cincinnati, Toledo and Akron — could establish two. The only two cities with more than 300,000 people, Columbus and Cleveland, could have three.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory said he needs to learn more about the bill, but that it sounds like a great idea, especially if car traffic is reduced or eliminated in such districts at certain times.
“It could really help us to create even more energy in some areas of the city,” Mallory said.
He said the idea could work at a new mixed-use development between the Reds and Bengals stadiums along the Ohio River known as The Banks and in the Over-the-Rhine historic neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati, which was the site of the city's race riots in 2001 but is in the middle of a major transformation into a popular restaurant and bar scene.