Debate, 5/7

Debate, 5/7

Debate Forum Center: Bill could allow revelers to have ‘one for the road’

By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: Sam Rhoden

With the exception of a few states, towns and cities in this country prohibit people from roaming the streets with open containers of alcohol, whether it’s a glass of beer or a partially consumed bottle of wine or liquor, and you certainly cannot have an open container in a motor vehicle. These open container laws are in place because municipalities want to discourage public intoxication and the potential problems that can come with it. In a few areas, though, people are free to possess open containers of alcohol – most famously in the French Quarter in New Orleans and the Las Vegas strip – as long as the drink is in a plastic container. Interestingly enough, Butte, Mont. has no law at all prohibiting open containers, and anyone 21 or older is free to walk the streets with the drink of his or her choice. Soon, Ohio may allow exceptions to open container laws, much like they do in New Orleans and Las Vegas.

The proposed legislation made it to the Ohio Senate on April 28, and its aim is to relax open container laws in what are considered “entertainment districts” in cities with 50,000 or more residents. An entertainment district is a city area like Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati and the Oregon District here in Dayton. What this means is that people within the entertainment district may possess open containers, but may not bring them in from outside the district. All alcohol must be purchased by a licensed vendor, such as a bar or restaurant, within the district.

The main sponsor of this legislation, Sen. Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati), and supporters claim relaxing the open container law promotes tourism and a festival atmosphere, which would be similar to what is found in other U.S. cities where open container laws are relaxed. Additionally, supporters claim this move is a plus for attracting business to the entertainment areas. Supporters also say relaxing the law allows people to move more freely through the district without having to finish a drink in order to go outside and to the next venue.

Critics are not so sure about the benefits of this legislative move. They say it is an invitation to trouble, mostly from an increase in alcohol-related crime, but they also predict problems from extra trash in the form of cast-off drinking cups and from incidents of underage drinking. Critics further say preventing people from bringing in their own alcohol and drinking it on the streets will be hard to do as well. They point to these problems and say that increased police presence will be necessary, which could burden already strained city budgets.

If the bill passes at all, it will not be until the end of the year before changes happen in entertainment districts like the Oregon District. Supporters are optimistic it will pass, and with it they say will come increased tourism, business, festival excitement and a boost in the “cool factor” for Ohio’s cities with entertainment districts. Supporters will have to convince critics, though, because opponents fear the plan may backfire with increased crime, underage drinking and other nuisances brought on by irresponsible behavior.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Ohio Senator Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati) is proposing legislation that would exempt entertainment districts in cities of 50,000 or more from open container laws. Should Ohio relax its open container laws and allow entertainment districts like the Oregon District to create a festival atmosphere supporters say is along the lines of New Orleans’ French Quarter?

Debate Forum Left: If you don’t want to party with the big boys, don’t vote for it

 By Ben Tomkins

My wife summed it up best one evening last week when I ran this topic past her. I had no idea what her reaction would be, but she immediately perked up with:

“That sounds fun!”

Yes. Exactly. It sounds terrifically fun, and personally I think having a designated cultural district that treats a small portion of the city as Whenevertoberfest could only make it a more desirable social location. That, of course, equals more money for a city, which also sounds terrifically fun. I think having a designated cultural district that treats the small portion of the city as a funnel for alcohol taxes could only make it a more desirable location.

That aside, the most important thing to remember about the proposed legislation is that it doesn’t require anyone to do anything. It’s not as if the legislation will pass and all of a sudden the democratically dissenting voices of the Oregon District will be squelched by an auditory coup of University of Dayton students vomiting on the sidewalk. Ostensibly, the legislation could pass and nothing whatsoever would change in the entire state.

As a result, the bill falls into a wonderful category of legislation that makes no overt changes, but allows citizens the option of more fully exploring what kind of city they want.

Those who are opposed to this bill have a diverse collection of arguments that can be distilled roughly into three categories. First: disruption of the surrounding communities. Second: increased crime in the area. And last: incredibly loud and vague tirades about how the French Quarter in New Orleans is the entrance to Hell. That crowd is dismissed. Hell isn’t supposed to be fun.

Regarding the first, I have little sympathy for individuals who buy real-estate near public institutions and then have the nerve to complain about the exact circumstances that resulted in their dirt-cheap mortgage. I can’t stand them, in fact. Their misplaced belief that they have personal ownership to the public street parking in front of their house causes them to vote irrationally against anything fun. They suck, and I want them to die.

I cannot fathom how their quality of life would dramatically alter if the rowdy inebriated 20-somethings hopping from bar to bar at 1 a.m. were now hopping from bar to bar with a beer in their hand. Once you hate everyone on the planet, geography is elementary.

What absolutely would happen is that there would be much more puke and trash cluttering up the streets of the designated entertainment district because more people would want to go there. This is by no means a bad thing. Now, instead of having trash spread over the entire city, most of it is piled conveniently into a half-square mile area. Yes, that part of town will be trashed all the time, but if you know where it’s going to be and that trash is the residue of your gigantic profits, then shut your mouth and deal. Just like the people who bought houses near a bar, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Take the cash and get a hose out for five minutes every morning.

Also, this concentration of people is precisely what resolves the fear of increased crime. As an example, my wife went to school in Baltimore at the Peabody Institute. Peabody is within a few blocks of the Inner Harbor, which has been turned into an entertainment area much like the riverfront in Cincinnati. It is well known amongst Baltimore residents that the Inner Harbor is extremely safe, and you always see people down there lounging around and having a good time. It’s when you set even a single toenail outside of the Inner Harbor that you’re likely to get shot, and that’s not even remotely a joke. I’ve lived in Cleveland as well, and guess what? Same story.  As it is everywhere. If you look around and suddenly you’re alone, run in the direction of the loud, drunken roars.

Therefore, it is not at all unexpected that the French Quarter in New Orleans has about a tenth the crime rate as the rest of the city. Naturally, the city keeps a large police force there at all times to ensure the area is as safe as possible. In fact, it makes the police department’s job easier because they know exactly where the vast majority of the partiers are going to be. They can concentrate their efforts where crowd control is necessary, and as a result their increased presence will in-and-of-itself deter crime. After all, the biggest deterrent to speeding is a patrol car.

Having an entertainment district with open containers won’t cause any more problems than already exist, short of a messier street in the morning. Businesses will make more money, the city will get more taxes and if it’s really that big a deal the city can use that extra money to hire street cleaners to sweep drunken college students into the gutters every day. The law isn’t going to require a city to create a district if the people don’t want one, and if they do, great. Realize what it is and go to your neighborhood bar if you don’t want to deal with it.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.


Debate Forum Right: Should Ohio create open container districts for alcohol consumption?

By Dave Landon

Anyone who’s been to the Oregon District during the annual Halloween celebration “Haunt Fest on 5th Street” (formerly and perhaps more descriptively known as “Boo and Brew”) has a flavor of what goes on in a “New Orleans Bourbon Street-style” open container district. Huge crowds of partiers roaming the Oregon District with their drinks in hand fill the sidewalks and Fifth Street. The annual event brings thousands to the Oregon District and is a huge revenue night for the businesses in the district. Along with St. Patrick’s Day, this event is the biggest revenue night of the year.

To accommodate the huge crowd, scores of port-a-johns line the side streets. The clean up the following day hauls away tons of empty bottles and other trash. The following morning the street has the faint odor of the gallons of beer and other liquids that have been spilled and otherwise released. Eventually, street cleaners and rainwater neutralize the smell. Those living in the residential section of the Oregon District do their own clean up the following day of stray bottles that escaped the confines of the fenced-off party area, although in recent years the authorities have done a better job of keeping non-resident partiers out of the area. Because it is an economic boost to the business owners, most accept the slight inconveniences this once-a-year open-container event brings to the community. After all … it’s only one night a year; two if you count St. Patrick’s Day.

Now imagine that this scenario repeated itself every day. That’s the goal of legislation recently introduced in the Ohio Legislature to exempt entertainment districts in cities of 50,000 or more from open container laws. According to a press release from the bill’s sponsor, Senate Bill 116 will promote tourism and business development across the state. In theory, it would allow areas such as the Oregon District, the Flats in Cleveland and the Over-the-Rhine District in Cincinnati to have fewer restrictions on those patrons who want to wander these districts with drink in hand. The benefit for the customer is that if they purchase a drink within the entertainment district, they can leave the bar with their beverage and take it with them. The sponsor of the legislation, Senator Eric Kearney (D-Cincinnati) believes that it will benefit the businesses within these entertainment districts.

As a general rule, I support laws that attempt to reduce restrictions on business. However, this is one instance where I believe that there is a reasonable objective to the current law of restricting open containers of alcoholic beverages. Having been to Bourbon Street and the Las Vegas Strip, I’ve witnessed the experience that the legislation is attempting to create. While it’s entertaining to experience, it’s hardly worth emulating. I love the Oregon District and have always supported the bars and restaurants there. As a strictly personal view, I don’t see an advantage to creating a smaller version of the French Quarter, as it would change the character of the district from personal to impersonal.

The Oregon District spends thousands of dollars for extra law enforcement and to fence off the residential area during events like “Haunt Fest on 5th Street.” In addition to the added costs for clean up and security, it poses a potential conflict between the businesses and the residential areas adjoining these districts. In our own community, that relationship between the bars on Fifth Street and the Oregon District residential neighborhood has always been a delicate balancing act. From time to time, there have been threats of voting “dry” the precinct within which the Fifth Street bars are located.

For years the “Rule of 17” was an informal agreement between the City of Dayton and the Oregon Historical District Society (the group representing the home owners) as to the number of liquor licenses that could be located in the district. It was one way for residents to have some control over the situation. That agreement was abolished in 2011. There has always been a deep divide between the neighborhood OHDS and the Oregon District Business Association (ODBA) as they work at cross purposes; creating an entertainment district versus a residential neighborhood. Creating an open container exemption in the Oregon District could aggravate that divide even further.

While the legislation allows for open container entertainment districts, it will still be up to the individual local governments of those cities of 50, 000 or more to vote in favor of the creation of such districts. So even if this passes the Ohio legislature and becomes law, the City of Dayton can choose to maintain the status quo. That would get my vote.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at DaveLandon@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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