Pedestrian plaza proposed in downtown Lebanon

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Cafe owner Rhonda Grote talks about the potential of a pedestrian plaza on East Mulberry Street that would create a destination and party district.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Outdoor dining, open-container districts appealing to downtowns.

A block of Mulberry Street would become a pedestrian plaza for outdoor dining and an open-container party district in Lebanon’s historic downtown.

The concept was unveiled last week at a Lebanon City Council work session.

It expands on an existing extension into the street from the sidewalk allowing for outdoor dining and drinking in front of one bar-restaurant, as well as requests for similar ironwork and curbing by two other establishments on East Mulberry, between Broadway and Mechanic Street.

It also aims to capitalize - like other Ohio cities including Dayton, Zanesville and Canton - on new laws enabling cities to establish outdoor areas where people can carry open alcoholic beverages.

“This could be a hub that just breaks open Lebanon and draws people on a weekend basis,” Councilman Matt Rodriguez said.

Streets have been given back to pedestrians in places like Time Square in New York; Pearl Street in Boulder, Colo.; and East 4th Street in Cleveland. But the Dayton-area regional planning organization was unaware of anything like it in Montgomery, Miami, Greene or northern Warren counties.

“We’re not aware of a project like that in our region,” said Bob Steinbach, director of sustainable solutions and transportation alternatives for the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission.

“Walking is considered a transportation alternative,” Steinbach added.

Earlier this month, Greg Orosz, a landscape designer and president of Historic Downtown Lebanon Inc., asked the city council to endorse his design for designated outdoor dining areas in front of the Royce Cafe and Coffeehouse and the local Elks lodge on East Mulberry.

The cafe and Elks lodge are just west of the Village Wine Cellars, which already has an outdoor area extending into the street and bordered by ironwork.

“You’re at the tipping point,” City Manager Pat Clements said Tuesday as he unveiled the pedestrian plaza concept plan.

Booths and bandstands could be set up during festivals and other special events. The weekly farmers market could be moved here from a nearby parking lot.

Funds set aside for redevelopment of cities left without racetracks due to legalization of racinos in Ohio could help pay for the design. A special assessment of abutting property owners could also help offset development and maintenance costs.

“We are definitely for it,” said Rhonda Grote, co-owner of Cafe, a coffee shop and eatery now seeking a liquor license. Grote pointed to Loveland, along the Warren-Clermont county line north of Cincinnati, and Knoxville, Tenn., as other areas capitalizing on people’s desire to eat and drink outdoors.

To qualfiy as an open-container district, Clements said two other liquor-license holders would need to open on the block. Councilman Steve Kaiser said there were plans to open the former Best Cafe across the cafe and next to the Elks.

“The more there is, the more people come,” Grote said. “The city leaders are being very forward thinking.”

Local ordinances would have to be established designating hours of operation - if the plaza was closed to vehicular traffic only on weekends, for example - and other regulations for the plaza.

Orosz recently assisted the new owners of the Village Ice Cream Parlor in Lebanon in winning approval for an outdoor dining area behind the building in an alley across from the Cafe. He and supporters recently gathered more than 20 signatures from downtown merchants favoring the concept.

“It’s moving very quickly,” Orosz said, noting cities like Boulder and Charlottesville, Va. “It almost becomes the central plaza for these cities and a gathering place for the community.”

“That’s what draws the people. That’s what draws the businesses. That’s what draws the crowd,” he added. “It will still take public discussion.”

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