DORA would eliminate need for beer tents; Chamber sees plenty of upside

The St. Paddy's Day Festival in Warsaw has relied on beer tent, including last year. A proposal before Warsaw City Council could change that but not before this year's holiday gathering. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — Rob Parker is a big advocate for the establishment of a DORA district, which Warsaw has proposed to establish inside the downtown business district.

DORA is short for Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.

Rob Parker

The state legislature opened the door for such local policies last year when it passed legislation, and Winona Lake Town Council embraced the concept soon afterward by establishing a DORA district for The Village at Winona.

Parker, the president of Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce has talked to officials in Kalamazoo and roughly six communities in Ohio that have adopted DORA-like policies and thinks it will open up the chance for more foot traffic in the downtown, whether it be window shopping or attending a festival.

“That’s the idea. In every community that I’ve talked to, that’s what happens. It increases foot traffic, it increases sales to the other stores,” Parker said. “It’s just really good.”

He believes it will increase economic vitality for the downtown merchants.

“Each one of them has said it provides for a great opportunity for people to come together, to have community and participate in festivals and arts and crafts.”

Ten restaurants in downtown Warsaw have expressed interest in the program, which would be open for use at any time, but is specifically geared toward outdoor events and festivals.

The policy would allow downtown patrons to buy adult beverages at restaurants inside the district, using cups provided by businesses which would include a QR code that explains the rules and the designated area.

The proposed perimeter of the district would be Lake Street to the west, Main Street to the north, Indiana Street to the east and Jefferson Street to the south.

The change in policy could have a big effect on festivals such as the St. Paddy Days Festival that have relied on a beer tents in the past in downtown Warsaw and could likely render the tents unnecessary.

Parker said he thinks the change would greatly benefit spectators attending the Fat & Skinny Tire Festival when races are held in the downtown.

But it could have an impact on events wide and small.

“Think of having an art show in the downtown. You have a glass of wine and walking around looking at art,” Parker said. “Pretty cool.”

Unlike somebody sitting at a tavern who can potentially replenish their drink repeatedly, those who venture outdoors with a drink under the policy are not as likely to return for seconds and thirds in the same timespan, Parker points out.

“People aren’t going to drink as much —  it’s just a way to socialize and create economic vitality for our downtown,” Parker said.

He also argues that families — adults with children — sometimes attend festivals together but are then separated when adults head to the beer tent and children are left outside.

The elimnination of a tent — or a “beer jail” as some call it — would help keeps families together, he said.

The proposal was pitched on Feb. 20 and city council took the first steps toward approval. Virtually no opposition was voiced.

Other towns considering establishing DORA districts in Indiana include Mishawaka, Fort Wayne, Jeffersonville and Batesville, according to a recent search of Google News.

Winona Lake town council approved a similar plan last year with very little opposition and the new designation will likely be used this year.

Parker said he feels confident about its approval in Warsaw

“If Winona Lake was notoriously known for being the most conservative when it comes to alcohol consumption — if they’re OK with this — I think the rest of the community can get behind it as well,” Parker.

Warsaw City Council is expected to pick up the discussion in March.