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Cleveland considers its first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area Downtown

East Fourth Street businesses focus more on weekend patrons for sales while revenue is still down from the pandemic and food cost more from supply and demand issues.
Kelly Krabill
Ideastream Public Media
East 4th Street in Downtown Cleveland lights up as the sun sets.

Downtown Cleveland bar-goers may soon be able to take their drinks outside along E. 4th Street.

The proposed ordinance would establish the city’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area, commonly referred to as DORA, which allows participating restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages in branded cups that exempt purchasers from open container laws in specific areas.

“The entire initiative is a way of looking at our entertainment district and how we make it relevant going forward,” said Ari Maron, whose ADAPPJR, LLC will work with Downtown Cleveland Alliance to create the DORA.

Planning Director Joyce Huang said other local and regional cities like Shaker Heights, Cuyahoga Falls, Sandusky and more have already successfully implemented DORA districts to boost economic activity. Last summer, Akron expanded its DORA to include a greater area of Downtown.

“We are really kind of playing catch up to activate areas of our Downtown,” she told members of Cleveland City Council’s public safety committee on Wednesday.

Part of the proposal includes building a 1,800 square foot pocket park in place of the E. 4th Street valet service, which will likely move to Prospect and Euclid. The park will be built using previous tax increment financing from the House of Blues.

“It’s not just about building the spaces, it’s about programming the spaces and making sure they’re active,” Maron said.

Public safety plan in place, will not require Cleveland police officers

Some city council members expressed concern over how legal open containers would affect public safety. Councilmember Mike Polensek said he is worried about the possibility of additional strain on the city’s already overstretched and understaffed police department.

“I hope everyone is keenly aware of the fact I don’t expect, nor will I be too happy, to see Cleveland police officers taken from our neighborhoods to patrol E. 4th Street,” he warned presenters.

Maron assured members of council that his company — along with Downtown Cleveland Alliance — will be funding off-duty officers. On-duty police will make their usual rounds of the area, but will not be assigned to the DORA.

Edward Eckart of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance said he wants the project to take a “softer approach” in the DORA to avoid police intervention altogether. His team recently created a new position classification — known as neighborhood safety specialists — that will include staffers with prior experience as sworn security guards and a background in hospitality where they’ve interacted with overly intoxicated individuals.

The safety specialists undergo the same 40-hour crisis training program required of police officers.

Eckart said that if the safety specialists are doing their job properly to de-escalate situations, no police intervention will be needed.

“[We want to] make sure individuals that have underlying mental health problems or addiction issues; it's not about arresting them, it’s about connecting them to the right services,” he said.

Downtown and neighborhood expansion upcoming

The E. 4th St. proposal is a pilot program the city hopes to expand Downtown and to other neighborhoods.

“Ultimately, the idea is to expand that footprint and make this connect with the areas in our Downtown or even other neighborhoods that have entertainment areas,” Huang said.

DORAs are regulated by the State of Ohio, which allows a city the size of Clevelandto have six DORA districts. Huang said they expect an influx of requests after the Downtown district is launched, so the planning department is working on a strategic plan to determine the best suited locations in the city.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.