Some of our region’s largest suburbs are eyeing Cincinnati and already thirsting for their own open-container zones, now allowed under an Ohio law signed last week.
Officials in West Chester – the state’s most populous township – and fast-growing Liberty Township say they will be watching closely as Cincinnati speeds out front in adopting a new state law allowing alcoholic drinks in public.
Watching too are officials in Anderson, Deerfield, Green, Springfield and Union townships, as well as city leaders in Hamilton and Middletown.
Cincinnati has started the process for creating one or two open-container zones, possibly including one at The Banks.
A few local suburban communities, including Colerain Township as well as Clermont County’s Miami and Union townships, surveyed by The Enquirer cited their localities’ lack of a centralized location similar to The Banks that would be conducive for open-drink zones.
But leaders of a majority of local suburbs surveyed that have enough people to qualify for an open-container zone are intrigued by the new law’s possibilities.
“I like the idea and I think we should examine it,” says West Chester Trustee Mark Welch of the open-drink zones.
Both West Chester and Liberty Township exceed the minimum population threshold of 35,000 residents to be allowed to have an open-container zone.
Under the new law, West Chester officials would be allowed to establish two open-drink zones and Liberty one.
Welsh says a number of venues in West Chester might be suitable for the zones.
West Chester’s The Square At Union Centre, just off the busy Union Centre Boulevard and Interstate 75 interchange, is already an open-air gathering place for many large community events.
On the eastern side of the I-75 interchange is the growing Streets of West Chester retail and soon-to-be residential complex.
Fellow West Chester Trustee George Lang also supports adopting the zones, saying “there are at least three different spots (locations) in my mind that would be ideal.”
The $350-million Liberty Center outside mall, restaurant, hotel and residential complex near the I-75 and Liberty Way exchange could be a possible location for Liberty Township’s open-drink zone, says Trustee Christine Matacic.
The expansive $350 million Liberty Center in Butler County is scheduled to open in October and it may also be the future site of Liberty Township’s first open-drink zone. An Ohio bill that would allow outdoor drinking in designated areas is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Matacic said at a recent trustees meeting “we’ll wait to see what Cincinnati (The Banks) does and learn from that.” She added: “we need to be proactive with this.”
The mixed-use Liberty Center will be a mini-city with its multistory residential, hotel and office buildings complimenting a myriad of department stores, restaurants, bars, outdoor performance areas and specialty shops intermixed on park-like grounds.
Interest in drink zones extends across the region
Middletown and its 45,000 residents may feature a zone downtown, says Director of Public Safety David VanArsdale.
“We’ve had some informal discussions. Obviously it has to be properly controlled, but it could have some application here,” says VanArsdale.
In Hamilton, the Butler County seat with a population 62,000, downtown could be a future site, says City Manager Joshua Smith.
Deerfield Township Administrator Bill Becker said a zone could be welcomed in the Warren County community of 38,000 residents, but that officials are still exploring how it would be implemented and where.
In Hamilton County, Springfield Township administrator Mike Hinnenkamp says he can’t see an open-container district being useful to his community now, but that could change.
The township purchased the 50-acre Warder property off North Bend Road near St. Xavier High School and hopes to develop the former nursery site.
“Perhaps when the Warder property is developed … something like that would make sense,” he said. “It’s always nice to have options.”
Green Township Administrator Kevin Celarek said his township has considered using the new law.
If it did, the area in the township where adults could publicly imbibe outdoors would encompass the Harrison Greene development, near the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Westwood Northern Boulevard. Harrison Greene is under construction now and will feature a Dewey’s Pizza, Graeter’s ice cream shop, First Watch Café and Tom + Chee restaurant.
“It’s an economic development tool,” Celarek said of open-container zones.
Eastside communities see possibilities from law
On Hamilton County’s eastern border, Anderson Township officials say they might pop a cork on a zone but they may have to wait for more development there.
Anderson Township Administrator Vicky Earhart said that an open-container district is something that the board of trustees may consider. The township has a population of more than 43,000.
The two potential areas that Earhart sees the township’s entertainment district along the Ohio River and Anderson Towne Center at Five Mile Road and Beechmont Avenue.
The entertainment district along the Ohio currently includes the Belterra Park racino and Riverbend. “And hopefully that will expand and we’ll have additional businesses there in the future based on our Ohio Riverfront Plan,” Earhart said.
Union Township has no plans for an open-container district and no businesses have contacted township officials with interest in one, said John McGraw, the trustees board’s chairman said.
“However, I would be open to the idea if our local business community and our residents think it would be a benefit,” McGraw said. “With all our new development underway, Union Township is becoming a destination point for shopping and entertainment.”
McGraw said the township already has an entertainment district at Jungle Jim’s International Market at 4450 Eastgate South Drive and the surrounding restaurants. A township amphitheater next to Jungle Jim’s also could play into any plans, although trustees would have to reverse an alcohol ban at the amphitheater.
“We are actively looking for sponsors to help pay for community concerts, so this might be an avenue” to attract sponsors, McGraw said. An open-container zone “would certainly attract bigger entertainment.”
No reservations about law, but it doesn’t fit everywhere
Officials in Colerain Township and Fairfield aren’t opposed to the idea of open-container zones. They just don’t see how the zones could work in their communities.
In western Hamilton County’s Colerain Township assistant administrator Frank Birkenhauer says an open-container district doesn’t make sense for his community.
With almost 60,000 residents, Colerain would be eligible for two such districts. Yet “when the topic was raised, I talked with some of our businesses, and unless we see a drastic change in our commercial and entertainment area, I see no interest,” said assistant township administrator Frank Birkenhauer.
Birkenhauer said the township requires permits on a by-event basis from individual businesses now, and the township welcomes the control the current system provides. “What we are doing now works,” he said. “There is no reason to change it.”
Not far from Colerain, Fairfield lacks the central cores possessed by Butler County’s two other cities, Hamilton and Middletown.
“None of us here think it’s a bad idea, but we don’t have a downtown area or something like The Banks,” says Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller.
In Clermont County’s Miami Township, officials haven’t seriously considered an open-container district because there are no suitable locations for one, Township Administrator Larry Fronk said.
“It’s kind of a neat thing, but do we really have a place where we want to enact something like that?” Fronk said. “You really need someplace that’s really compact, very walkable, almost like an entertainment district. We don’t have anything like that in Miami Township.”
After Cincy, will Liberty Center be next?
After Cincinnati completes its process of choosing one or two locations for open-container districts, the next high-profile venue to give the new law a try could be may the $350 million Liberty Center complex, which opens in October.
Long-time Liberty Township resident Mark Etterling likes the idea.
The Liberty Center grounds “will be a confined area” suitable for including an open-drink zone on its grounds.
“The thing that always concerns me is drinking and driving but that problem is going to happen whether you are drinking inside or outside,” says Etterling.
West Chester resident Sean Boland he is open to the idea of an open-container zone, but he wants safeguards in place to “make sure adults are not handing drinks to minors.”
“I like the idea,” says Boland, “as long as it’s done right and policed.”
Staff writers Chrissie Thompson, Jennie Key, Sheila Vilvens, Rachel Richardson, Kurt Backscheider, Jeanne Houck, Cindy Schroder and Scott Wartman contributed.
DETAILS OF OHIO’S LAW
Under the new law signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich this week:
• Communities with more than 35,000 residents would be allowed to establish one open-drink zone.
• Those with more than 50,000 residents could create two zones.
• An open-drink zone would be no more than a half-mile square.
• A city or township would determine the zone’s boundaries, signage, hours of operation, sanitation and policing plans.
• Any local government’s proposal to establish a zone would have to gather public input on the idea for a 30 days.
WHY ABOUT KENTUCKY?
Kentucky allows for large entertainment districts to apply for a special license that would allow people to walk in common areas with alcoholic drinks.
So far, only one exists in the state, Louisville’s 350,000-square-foot Fourth Street Live. Kentucky sets several restrictions for an “entertainment destination center license,” basically limiting them to large cities or urban county governments or mid-sized cities near major entertainment destinations.