CINCINNATI — What was a "troubling" sight for Gov. Mike DeWine was a welcome change for business owners at The Banks in the hours leading up to Thursday's Reds Opening Day game.
"One to 10, I give it an 11," said Kris Keefe, manager at Jefferson Social, which sits at the corner of E. Freedom Way and Marian Spencer Drive in the heart of The Banks' new designated outdoor refreshment area (DORA). He said it's the busiest day The Banks has seen since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago.
Keefe's counterpart down the block at Holy Grail Tavern and Grille, Nick Remsay, agreed that, without the open-container zone just out their doors, there would be a lot of impatient, unhappy fans -- and a lot of lost business.
"We had a line at our door at 8 o'clock," Remsay said. "The inside filled up very quickly because we are at 50% capacity still, because of COVID rules."
The Banks came under close scrutiny just days prior, when its first weekend showcased spring weather and large crowds packed into Freedom Way just outside the stadium, without practicing what some would consider appropriate social distancing and face-covering during a pandemic. A spokesperson for The Banks, Tracy Schwegmann, acknowledged that visitors weren't taking advantage of the DORA's full, 85-acre footprint, but said she expects, with time, that will change.
"It's an enormous footprint," she said. "We certainly want folks, as they come down to the DORA, to be mindful of those health recommendations that are in place to help keep you safe."
Late Thursday morning, crowds began arriving at The Banks but stayed mostly within the immediate vicinity of the ballpark, leading folks like DeWine to say during his routine COVID-19 briefing that afternoon: "They’re outside, and that’s the best thing I can say -- they are outside. But more people wearing masks would certainly make me feel a lot better."
Keefe and Remsay said they saw the potential the DORA holds for the neighborhood post-pandemic.
"We're just very excited about the future," Keefe said. "Once all the COVID restrictions are (done), what these places are going to look like down here with the big screen on the outside of the stadium, and all this extra capacity, it's really exciting. It'll be a lot of fun."