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Open containers on Opening Day?

| Cincinnati Enquirer | by Chrissie Thompson

COLUMBUS -

Want to carry a beer from Holy Grail with you as you stroll The Banks on Opening Day?

A bill to allow cities to create open-container districts much like those in New Orleans or Memphis, Tennessee, appears likely to pass the Ohio Legislature this year.

But Cincinnati leaders are urging lawmakers to hurry to make it law in time for the Reds’ Opening Day game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 6 — and countless game days and Banks events after that.

Under the proposal, some cities and townships would be able to suspend open-container laws by creating up to three “outdoor refreshment areas” of no more than a half-mile square. Revelers would have to purchase alcohol from businesses in the designated area to drink it while walking around.

To meet the Opening Day deadline, the Ohio House and Senate would have to pass identical bills, with two-thirds in both chambers voting to make the legislation take effect immediately. Gov. John Kasich would have to sign off on the bill.

Then, the city of Cincinnati would have to draw the boundaries of the open-container district and act to make it take effect almost immediately. Police officers, Great American Ball Park and Banks restaurant owners would have to prepare to launch the new rules.

And all of this would have to happen in less than 34 days.

“Something that would happen by the beginning of baseball season would be awesome,” Phil Castellini, Reds chief operating officer, told The Enquirer. Still, “I would be the first one to say, ‘Don’t unveil it until we’re ready to unveil it right.’ … The worst thing you could do is just sort of pass it, throw a dart at the board and say, ‘Just go crazy.’ ”

The Reds, The Banks, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce all sent letters or gave testimony Tuesday calling on lawmakers to pass the bill ASAP.

If the city can’t allow open containers on The Banks by Opening Day, leaders hope to put the special district in place well before the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July.

The city can already grant limited, one-time open-container permits to nonprofits for events such as the All-Star Game, Opening Day or a Bengals playoff game. But revelers can’t walk around with beer from local bars, as under this proposal.

Creating a permanent open-container district would allow a group of businesses, for instance, to band together to plan concerts and block party-esque events year-round. Think 3CDC’s Fountain Square programming or Beale Street in Memphis.

“If it’s done right, you’re going to create hopefully another 30, 40, 50 significant dates in a calendar year where that area’s hopping,” Castellini said. “It’s a long-term play for the long-term viability of The Banks.”

The city also might consider allowing open containers in areas such as Over-the-Rhine’s craft-brewery district.

An open-container bill appears likely to pass the full Ohio House as soon as the week of March 16, said Rep. Tim Brown, R-Bowling Green, who chairs the House committee handling the legislation.

Similar legislation died in the Ohio House last year, but the current proposal has the support of the current House speaker, Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. State Reps. Louis “Bill” Blessing, R-Colerain Township, and Denise Driehaus, D-Clifton, are sponsoring the bill.

State Sens. Cecil Thomas, D-North Avondale, and Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, introduced a similar bill Tuesday, hoping to speed the bill’s passage by having discussions in both chambers simultaneously.

Typically, a 90-day waiting period prevents bills from taking effect immediately upon receiving the governor’s signature. To waive that waiting period, lawmakers can pass a so-called emergency clause, which requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

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