Open-container proposal could affect Youngstown, Warren

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Parts of the Valley could benefit from a proposal that would allow open containers of alcohol outside of restaurants and bars in Ohio.

The big push is from lawmakers in Cincinnati. They want it passed before they host Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game on July 14. But local leaders are cautiously optimistic about the plan as well.

Similar to Bourbon Street in downtown New Orleans, people soon could be walking down the sidewalks of Youngstown and Warren drinking alcohol.

The Ohio House passed legislation 82 to 12 that would allow open containers in certain areas. The legislation still must pass the Senate.

The idea is to allow for entertainment districts similar to those in New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee, where revelers could carry open containers of alcohol outside of bars and restaurants in some cities.

The bill that recently passed the House and is now in the Senate would allow cities with populations of at least 35,000 to create a district where it would be legal to walk outside with open containers of alcohol. Two districts would be allowed in cities with populations of 50,000 or more.

Customers in the districts could legally buy and drink alcohol within a designated area of a half square mile. But they wouldn’t be permitted to bring their own drinks.

“Any municipality or township with over 35,000 people can participate if local government officials want this to occur,” State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said.

In the Valley, the proposed law could impact Boardman, Warren and Youngstown.

“I think it would be great. It would be great for the city, bring more people downtown, out to bars, to restaurants more,” Ed Moses of V2 in downtown Youngstown said.

Michael McGiffin, Youngstown’s coordinator of downtown events, said an open container district could be good for the city. But, McGiffin admits he is cautious about the opportunity as questions remain.

“How big does this area need to be? Where should it be? Who should be involved? Who needs to be involved? We do not want to leave anybody out. And then realistically,. is this going to be a benefit to us? There is a lot of questions still unanswered, but we are definitely moving forward,” McGiffin said.

Smaller cities may also have a chance to be included in the open container law too.

“The only change is that the Senate is coming up with a bill that might lower that population threshold because township and municipalities that are smaller say ‘we would like to do this as well’,” Schiavoni said.

Creating a permanent open-container district would allow businesses to band together to plan concerts and block party-type of events year-round. Districts could be created in entertainment areas such as Columbus’ Arena District, the Flats in Cleveland, the Warehouse District in Toledo and the Banks in Cincinnati.

A legislator who didn’t vote for the House bill was Rep. Bob Cupp, R- Lima, a former Ohio Supreme Court justice.

“Since the end of Prohibition, states have been the ones who regulate the sale and use of alcohol,” Cupp told The Blade in Toledo recently. “One can get a permit for a big three-day festival, but it’s always the state that has the final say on it. This turns that on its head.”

He said he also believes the population thresholds are too low.

“This is really an experiment, so I’d like to see it confined to fewer venues,” Cupp said.

Brian Dicken, vice chairman of public affairs at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, told The Blade newspaper in Toledo that the chamber has heard from businesses in the city’s Warehouse District who are intrigued by the idea.

“It’s a good way to help cities that are trying to rebuild their urban cores,” said Jim Mettler, owner of a tavern in Toledo.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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