“To-go beers” could take on a whole new meaning in areas like Columbus’ Short North Arts District depending on the final status of current pending legislation, as Ohio Senate Bill 116 proposes loosening Ohio open container laws in municipal entertainment districts. Some business owners, however, said they have safety concerns about the proposed bill.
The bill can only be applied to cities with a population of more than 50,000 and designated one-half mile by one-half mile entertainment districts that have at least four businesses with an A-2 or D permit.
An A2 manufacturer permit allows for the manufacture of wine, while D permits are for restaurants and night clubs and allow for the sale of various types of alcohol until certain times of night, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce website.
Ohio cities Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati would all qualify for multiple entertainment districts, which would have to be created by the cities, under SB 116 if passed. Areas such as the Short North or the South Campus Gateway in Columbus could qualify.
These districts would be exempt from the current Ohio open container law, which prohibits people from having open containers of beer or intoxicating liquors when in vehicles or not on certain approved premises, with some exceptions, and would resemble that of Bourbon Street in New Orleans and the Savannah Historic District of downtown Savannah, Ga. SB 116 would allow a person with an open container purchased from an appropriate permit holder within the entertainment district the option to take drinks to go.
The bill was proposed by Sen. Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, and was first introduced to the Senate almost a year ago on April 25, 2013. It is currently still in the introduction stage in the 130 Legislature session, according to the Open States website.
Kearney did not return multiple requests for comment.
General manager Alan Saunders of Union Café, a bar/restaurant located in the Short North at 782 N. High St., said his opinion on a loosened open container law has changed since the idea was first introduced in April 2013.
“We’ve had a couple new liquor establishments open that attract a different type of guest coming into the area and when they are intoxicated, they become combative and aggressive. From what we’ve seen, that doesn’t mix well with the (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) audience that frequents the area,” Saunders said in an email. “I feel that if we allow open containers in the district that it gives everyone more freedom to roam around and try other establishments, but it also contributes to ‘escalating situations’ when they present themselves. Not just for the GLBT community but for all who come into the district.”
Xhevair Brakaj, owner of Arch City Tavern, located in the Short North at 862 N. High St., said the idea of looser open container laws has him concerned about safety as well.
“When people have the option to walk around with whatever they’re drinking and pay a lot less than they can drink somewhere else, they have the opportunity to drink more and act crazier because they’re drinking for less,” Brakaj said. “I really don’t like the idea.”
Some Ohio State students had mixed reactions about a loosened open container law applying to areas like the nearby Short North.
“It would be really fun,” said Brett Wolfe, a fourth-year in criminology.
But there is a potential downside to SB 116, Wolfe said. The loosened open container law could change the atmosphere of the Short North, making it difficult for families and people visiting who are not actively taking part in the Short North’s nightlife aspects to enjoy the area, he said.
“It would be cool for the younger generation, but you want the Short North to represent everyone, not just the bar scene,” Wolfe said.
He added it’s hard to say what consequences a loosened open container law would have.
“There are so many things that could happen with people having open containers,” Wolfe said. “I think it would be interesting to see what would happen, but I don’t think it will pass.”
Fourth-year in English Sam Deskin was also not convinced a loosened open container law would be the best thing for the Short North.
“It depends, there is always going to be that one person that’s irresponsible,” Deskin said. “There is danger involved.”