OSHKOSH – Local downtown business leaders asked the Oshkosh city council on Tuesday to consider making changes to ordinances that would allow patrons to take drinks from downtown bars out into the public.
Jessica Meidl, manager for the Business Improvement District, and Kris Larson, owner of Becket’s, presented to the council a pilot program for a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). The program would allow patrons to carry alcoholic beverages in a specified area of Downtown Oshkosh.
The DORA district would stretch along North Main Street — roughly from Irving Avenue to the Riverwalk — extending near the river to encompass an area west to Jackson Street and east to the Leach Amphitheater.
Visitors ages 21 and older could walk anywhere in that space with alcoholic beverages during designated hours: From 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Meidl said she hopes it would create more programming downtown, based on a suggestion tourism expert Roger Brooks made during his destination assessment of Oshkosh last July.
Meidl said she saw these examples from many different cities in Ohio, which has specific laws governing the DORA programs. In Wisconsin, only Sturgeon Bay has done something similar, creating a “Walking Area Entertainment Zone” in 2020.
Meidl said this would be a good way to add more vibrancy to the downtown area because it will allow businesses to serve more people, especially during events.
“It could enhance our downtown events,” Meidl said. “It allows us to emphasize our Farmers Market and things like Main Street Music Festival.”
Participating businesses in the area would sell specific DORA cups to patrons, who would then walk around the designated area with their drink. They, however, couldn’t take it into unlicensed public businesses.
Council member Aaron Wojciechowski asked about the potential for additional litter from the cups or the possibility of underaged people using DORA cups. Larson said that is as “apt to happen” downtown even without DORA, but there are the normal guardrails in place against underaged drinking and there would not be any increased liability for the city.
Council member Michael Ford said residents have expressed concerns about possibly creating a “pub crawl”-type atmosphere downtown that takes away a family atmosphere.
Meidl said the city would be able to halt the DORA program on certain weekends, like if an event like a pub crawl is already scheduled that weekend.
Larson said this program is a good thing to try for the city to possibly bring more business downtown. If issues come up because of the DORA, downtown businesses would be fine with ending the program.
“If this does not drive vibrancy downtown, we don’t want it to happen,” Larson said.
Meidl and the BID hope for a pilot program for the DORA later this year. Any program would need to see changes to local ordinances by the city council first.
The council did not vote on anything Tuesday, but Meidl previously told the Northwestern she hopes a pilot program could happen as early as this summer.
This article originally appeared on Oshkosh Northwestern: Downtown Oshkosh business leaders seek public drinking areas