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Oxford to consider year-round alcoholic drinking area outdoors

Students at Miami University might be free to enjoy alcoholic drinks outdoors in Uptown Oxford next semester.

Since 2020, Oxford has opened a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) each summer and winter while school is out of session.

The DORA allows bars and restaurants to serve alcohol in specific DORA cups for patrons to take outside from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. each day. People are then free to drink from the designated open containers in Uptown from Church Street to Walnut Street on the north and south and Campus Avenue to Beech Street on the east and west.

Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene said the DORA started in 2020 to help businesses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the city is looking at a pilot program to keep it open year-round, even when students are in Oxford.

“The idea is that you want [Oxford] to be a place to go,” Greene said. “You want people to come into town and just enjoy being here …  You’re just trying to get people to engage in town and have a good time while they're here.”

Council has to vote on a resolution to open and close the DORA each summer and winter. If the city decides to move forward with the pilot program, Greene said there won’t be a resolution to close it right away in August when students return. The city would then use the summer months to coordinate with its partners on education, trash management and enforcement to prepare.

If necessary, the city could cancel the pilot program at any time.

“The way we've drafted it would still allow the council to turn it off,” Greene said. “It would be a pilot. We'll see how it goes, and if it goes well, we'll continue. If it doesn't, we'll turn it off.”

The idea for a year-round DORA first came about during a City Council meeting last November. At the time, Council voted to reopen the DORA from Dec. 17, 2021 until Jan. 23, 2022, the length of Miami’s winter break.

At the time, Councilor Glenn Ellerbe said the DORA should remain open year-round.

“I believe that the DORA provides tremendous economic benefit to this town and that we have been hamstringing ourselves with the fear of the students,” Ellerbe said at the time.  “… We’ve had multiple instances where students have been here pretty much all summer and had no incidents with overconsumption or disorderly conduct due to alcohol in the DORA.”

Five months later, Councilor Alex French said the city has had more in-depth discussions about logistics and implementation, and Council decided to prioritize the pilot program during its staff retreat in March.

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French said the biggest issues outdoor drinking would cause in Oxford while school is in session include policing and waste management since the DORA cups are disposable.

“We're essentially handing out disposable cups to people all weekend,” French said. “Environmentally, we want to make sure that we're not just creating an extra mountain of waste every weekend with all the DORA cups. So how can we balance affordability with cups that are biodegradable or compostable?”

Despite the hurdles, she said the year-round program would be beneficial for the city and town-gown relationships.

“Expanding [DORA] year round feels like we are engaging in trust with our student community,” French said. “It's something that I think the students would like to be able to do is to go Uptown and … get a beverage of their choosing if they're 21 and to go enjoy it in the park.”

For Kimberly Moore, Dean of Students, the issues a year-round DORA might cause seem more substantial.

“Twelve hours, seven days a week of an open intoxicant district is a misalignment of our values,” Moore said. “This does not align with the values of the institution. It perpetuates a high drinking culture, or high risk drinking culture, and that is completely contrary to what we’re trying to achieve.”

Moore said the drinking culture at Miami and in Oxford has been on the decline over the past years. Green Beer Day citations have been on the decline since 2017, with 90 citations given that year compared to just nine in 2019, the last pre-pandemic spring semester. This year, nine individuals were charged with alcohol-related offenses.

The DORA, Moore said, would be a step backwards.

“Students [I’ve talked to] were disappointed by and large about [the DORA] sort of being a devolution of the culture,” Moore said. “It's a devolution of the drinking culture, and it plays to a very small portion of who our students are.”

Jules Jefferson, a sophomore biochemistry and nutrition major, said keeping the DORA open all year may discourage students who don’t want to drink from going Uptown at all.

“Anyone who wants to just go to Graeter’s Ice Cream or Krishna, or any other local businesses, they're gonna be more exposed to the stuff that is happening in Brick [Street Bar] due to the alcoholic beverages being outside on the streets now,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson, a member of EcoReps, said the DORA would have environmental implications as well. The DORA cups aren’t reusable, and Jefferson has seen first-hand how some students dispose of their trash Uptown.

“I remember going Uptown once,” Jefferson said, “and as my car was pulling out, someone just threw their beer bottle right on the ground as I was exiting. [If the DORA passes,] I think litter is going to increase, which kind of decreases Oxford’s appearance.”

Even though the DORA would allow students to bring beverages outside, French said she doesn’t think it will change students’ drinking habits.

“When students go to Brick Street, it's because they want to be at Brick Street,” French said. “That's just a different vibe than drinking on the park benches Uptown.”

No official decision has been made on whether to move forward with the pilot program. Greene said the earliest it could be brought to Council is in May.