CINCINNATI — If all goes according to plan, visitors to The Banks soon could be patrons of the city's very first open-container entertainment district.
Mayor John Cranley announced the plan outside Great American Ball Park Tuesday afternoon, calling the stretch of Freedom Way between Joe Nuxhall Way and Walnut Street "the front porch of our city, our region."
The plan would close the 500-foot stretch to all vehicle traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza in which bar and restaurant patrons could carry up to a 16-ounce drink in a designated cup, also known as a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA, for short.
Cranley called it a "24-7 outdoor pedestrian-friendly district."
"Think of it like Beale Street but nicer," Cranley said.
The first plans to convert the area into a DORA date back to 2015, when the Cincinnati Reds hosted the All-Star Game. A year later, the Ohio General Assembly decided cities of a certain size could establish such areas, but the plan for Freedom Way stalled due to a lack of buy-in from surrounding businesses.
Tuesday's announcement showed that lack has not lingered.
For Jim Moehring, who owns Holy Grail Tavern and Grille at the corner of Freedom and Joe Nuxhall, the announcement meant a light at the end of a dark pandemic tunnel.
"Right now I can pretty much speak for every business down here, we're just going into debt," he said Tuesday. "This is the bright spot coming out of the dark."
Moehring said the benefits of the change would outlast the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think it will turn into an even bigger attraction than we are right now," he said. "When you have something like this that has a future that's so bright, that you can look forward to and say this is why we're doing this, this is why we're here... It's going to be huge."
State law requires a DORA district allow for 45 days of public engagement before a plan can go into action. At that point, Cranley can ask City Council to take up the necessary ordinances to initiate the plan.
Tuesday's announcement was the second from Cranley this month to launch plans expanding outdoor dining options throughout the city's urban core. On Dec. 4, the mayor proposed making permanent street space reappropriations made at the start of the pandemic across Downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including closing streets to vehicle traffic and using on-street parking spaces for expanded outdoor seating.