Dual bills could bring new ‘open container’ entertainment districts to Cincinnati

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Senate has passed a bill to allow people to carry alcoholic beverages outside as they visit restaurants and bars in certain designated areas.

The proposal would allow cities with populations of more than 35,000 to create entertainment districts, where Ohio’s open container law wouldn’t apply.

Patrons with a beer or alcoholic drink from one of the district’s establishments could carry it with them outside as they visit other district businesses. The size of the municipal entertainment districts could not exceed a half mile.

The measure’s sponsor — Democratic Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati — says the bill is meant to promote tourism and economic development. It passed on a 31-0 vote Tuesday.

State representatives Louis Blessing III and Denise Driehaus have a similar bill before the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 598 would allow municipal corporations with a population of 50,000 or more to create entertainment districts and exempt persons within that district from the open container law.

“As a frequent visitor to New Orleans, I have personally seen the economic advantages that such entertainment districts bring about,” Blessing said in earlier release. “With proper law enforcement in place, I am confident that we can revitalize Ohio’s cities in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. An entertainment district will create another incentive for Ohioans to patronize local businesses, and local governments indirectly, while having a great time in the process.”

HB 598 also outlines the process by which local businesses could apply to be exempt from open container laws.

Both representatives said the power to create these zones would be up to the local municipalities.

“Think about a space like The Banks, were people could move from restaurant to restaurant,” Driehaus said.

Driehaus said if they were able to get both the House and Senate versions of the bill amended and passed, it could theoretically allow Cincinnati to create such an entertainment district in time for the All Star Game in 2015.

However, legislative officials said it appears unlikely to be taken up during the lame duck session. Driehaus said she and Blessing plan on reintroducing the bill early in the next General Assembly should they have to.

She said that even if a finished bill is not completed in time, Cincinnati and the Reds could use temporary festival permits to allow for open container zones during Opening Day and the All Star Game.