MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon City Council learned on Monday that it approved a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area based on incorrect information.
Council gave a first reading to legislation changing the signage for DORA, but the discussion in a Planning and Zoning Committee meeting primarily concerned the DORA boundaries.
When council passed DORA in 2021, it designated the boundaries as the Central and General Business District, an area bounded by Gay Street, Phillips Drive, Mulberry Street, and Chestnut Street. Treatment facilities along the perimeter were excluded.
Anthony McNeal, former executive director of Experience Mount Vernon, told council at the time that DORA events would rarely take up the entire DORA footprint. Instead, the boundaries of each event would be clearly defined.
“Anyone who ventures outside of them with an open container would be subject to citation,” he said in a previous Knox Pages article.
On Monday, current Experience Mount Vernon director Lacey Filkins told council it is illegal to restrict DORA to specific event boundaries.
“The boundaries can only be changed, whether it's increased, decreased, or dissolved, by legislative action with a public hearing. So the events as they were run last year should not have been made smaller,” Filkins said. “... The DORA boundary is the DORA boundary regardless of the size of the event.”
In other words, people can leave the event boundary with an open container as long as they are within the DORA boundary.
Additionally, 2022 events typically restricted alcohol sales to the liquor license holder who organized the event. However, Filkins said that any qualified liquor holder within the DORA boundary can sell alcohol.
Councilman John Francis noted that someone drinking from a container other than a DORA cup yet is within the DORA boundary during a DORA event could be cited.
“That is not equal justice,” he said. “[But] if you're walking around with a DORA cup, you're free to go. That's the problem I have with it. If someone wanders into the DORA area and has an open container, that's what could happen to them.”
Filkins said that according to law, beverages must be in a plastic cup. Patrons must discard one cup before purchasing another. Options are limited to beer and wine.
“Even if you're within the DORA area, private owners are not required to allow people with DORA cups in,” Law Director Rob Broeren said, citing the Mount Vernon Nazarene University area.
“There are a contingent of shops and business owners downtown that have the 'please no DORA beverages' stickers on their door,” Filkins agreed.
Additionally, council adopted DORA on the understanding that it would not include First Fridays. However, that was not written into the legislation. Experience Mount Vernon has applied to have them as DORA events in 2023.
Filkins said First Fridays being DORA-approved allows attendees to experience the event fully rather than being restricted to the site of alcohol purchase. Additionally, it increases funds for KSAAT, promotes economic growth by attracting more people to downtown, and keeps patrons in the downtown area longer browsing shops as they finish their beverages.
“DORA really is an economic development tool, and my job is to look for ways to bring more people downtown and have them spend money in downtown,” Filkins said.
Filkins said Police Chief Robert Morgan is aware First Fridays will be included in DORA. According to Filkins, Morgan said two officers would be required to patrol the entire DORA boundary vs. the previous one officer.
Experience Mount Vernon will pay for the second officer.
Filkins acknowledged that alcohol at First Fridays could keep some people away as well as be a benefit but referenced the beer gardens held before COVID.
“So alcohol at First Friday is not a novel idea, and people still have to choose to go purchase a beverage,” she said.
“I think there will be some people who will struggle with that, especially when you have events for a lot of little kids,” Councilman Mel Severns said.
“I think it's concerning to hear tonight … that the only thing that is going to enhance our First Fridays and our festivals downtown is to inject liquor into it,” Councilman Francis said, adding that he is not opposed to beer. “When they had the beer garden, that's where you consumed it. You stayed there and then you leave and go back out to enjoy the rest of the festival.”
Council passed DORA by a 5 to 2 vote. Council members Tammy Woods and Janis Seavolt cast the no votes.
“For a visitor to come to Mount Vernon and the first thing they see when they come into our downtown area is a sticker on the sidewalk that says you can drink here is not the face of Mount Vernon I want,” Woods said.
Severns, Seavolt, and Councilman Mike Hillier agreed with Woods.
Hillier said that in voting for DORA, his only restriction was not seeing alcohol at First Fridays. Regarding previous beer gardens, he noted families did not have to go to that location.
“That worked out pretty good,” he said. “The people I see at First Fridays, whether it's in a DORA cup or what it's in, is not a good place to mix it. It's a family-friendly event that people can take their kids to. It never had alcohol in it; I hate to see it start.”
Noting that while it might be wonderful for other communities, he added, “I think Mount Vernon has to stand up for some of the things that Mount Vernon has to stand up for.”
The idea of permanent instead of temporary signage came about because the DORA boundary does not change. Filkins said the old boundary signage is lightweight and prone to being blown away or moved by passersby. Additionally, it has to be set out and removed for each event.
The new signage is non-slip and will be permanently affixed to the sidewalk. It is consistent with shop window decals and does not block or clutter wayfinding signage.
Experience Mount Vernon bought the new signage before knowing it required council's approval.
Ten DORA events took place in 2022 with no issues reported. Filkins said roughly $1,500 was raised for KSAAT (Knox Substance Abuse Action Team) through the $1 DORA cup fee.
Five events have been approved thus far in 2023: the Shamrock Shuffle held in March and four First Fridays. Filkins said Mount Vernon Music & Arts Festival intends to apply; the Johnny Appleseed Apple Festival has not yet done so.
Councilman James Mahan said that compared to the 2023 DORA events, the 2022 events made more sense to him because bar and grille-type establishments hosted them.
“First Fridays don't make sense to me,” he said.
Councilwoman Amber Keener said many DORA events are spearheaded by downtown merchants who want to see an event happen.
Josh Kirby, former Mount Vernon patrol officer and owner of Summit Axe Throwing on East Gambier Street, said he benefits from DORA boundaries and DORA events.
Now working for the City of Dublin, Kirby said that when Dublin first approved DORA, it expected alcohol-related issues and hired extra police officers. However, the city did not experience problems.
“Surprisingly, a large number of people that I would see carrying DORA cups around were in fact families that had their kids with them,” he said.