Fifth Street to shut down for outdoor dining, drinking, entertainment on weekends

Fifth Street in the Oregon District will be shut down to vehicular traffic on the weekends in September and October to give people more room to space out as they dine, stroll around, hang out and get to drink alcohol outside.

As it did on Labor Day weekend, a roughly 0.2-mile stretch of East Fifth Street will continue to close as part of a pilot program intended to help businesses expand outdoor seating and provide more room for social distancing at a time when COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

Fifth Street will be closed to create a pedestrian promenade from about 5 p.m. Fridays to 10 p.m. Sundays, through the end of October.

“Businesses are only able to operate at half capacity as a result of coronavirus precautions, but creating a pedestrian mall along Fifth Street will increase service for bars, restaurants, and even retailers,” said Kyle Babirad, owner of Canary Consulting and president of the Oregon District Business Association.

The Oregon District business corridor also will become Dayton’s first Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA), where people are allowed to consume alcohol on the streets that are purchased at participating businesses.

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The plan for outdoor seating and patio expansions when Fifth Street closes to vehicular traffic. CONTRIBUTED

Some citizens have long wanted Fifth Street to close to automobiles to make the district more pedestrian-friendly.

However, others have worried that closing the street will hurt some establishment’s sales and might negatively impact traffic flow, deliveries and other necessary activities.

Mike Martin, a business owner and resident of 33 years in the district, said he thinks the street closure and outdoor drinking district will be “disastrous” for some businesses and residents.

“So many people since 1972 have invested money, sweat and tears to create Dayton’s premier neighborhood, only to see alcohol prevail with no voice,” he said.

But the street closure is an attempt to help independent businesses in the Oregon District stay afloat in what has been an almost impossibly challenging time, said Emily Mendenhall, vice president of the Oregon District Business Association and owner of Lily’s bistro.

Oregon District in the summer of 2019. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

This will provide a safe, socially-distanced space for patrons to enjoy the offerings from the restaurants, bars, retailers, and service providers in the district, she said.

“We are super excited to try this out and hope people understand that while there will be hiccups, this is truly a lifeline for our small business community, and also brings Daytonians the experience of an outdoor, pedestrian only area in an urban setting,” she said.

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As it did on Labor Day weekend, the Oregon District will continue to shut down most of the brick section of East Fifth Street between Wayne Avenue and Patterson Boulevard as part of a pilot program called Out on Fifth.

The program seeks to help businesses whose indoor seating capacity has been limited because of coronavirus-related social distancing requirements.

“The (Oregon District Business Association) hopes this initiative will encourage patrons to come back to support their favorite businesses,” Babirad said.

The street will close at 3 p.m. Fridays, and it will become a pedestrian mall at around 5 p.m.

Some businesses in the district plan to use the road closure to expand their outdoor seating. Also, public tables will be set up that visitors can use.

When Fifth Street is closed, there will be special sales, acoustic music, and other entertainment.

For instance, during the first weekend, there were sidewalk sales, shops, and restaurants that put out special racks with trunks full of items. There was also live entertainment and artwork.

“Now more than ever, our small businesses need the support of the community,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “There will also be light entertainment in the District on weekends to enhance the experience guests have while they’re Out on 5th.”

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A bicyclist and a walker pass each other on Wayne Avenue on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, looking west up East Fifth Street in the Oregon District. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Also, the Oregon District business corridor earlier this year received city approval to become Dayton’s first designated outdoor refreshment area (DORA).

Ohio lawmakers passed legislation in 2015 that allows cities and townships across state to create one or two open-air drinking districts, depending on their size.

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Some businesses in the district will sell alcohol in special cups or containers that can be taken outside on the street for consumption. Businesses that do not sell alcohol may allow patrons inside who are carrying drinks.

Visitors will be able to take drinks outside on Fifth Street, as well as along some parts of Wayne Avenue and other areas near the business corridor, including around Crowne Plaza Dayton. The open-air drinking district is larger than just Fifth Street.

Signage will be installed indicating what businesses are participating in the DORA program.

A boundary map of the Designated Outdoor Drinking Area (DORA) in the Oregon District. CONTRIBUTED

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The outdoor drinking district will be in operation every day, from noon to 10 p.m..

The DORA’s approved hours of operations are until midnight, but during the pandemic, drinking establishments have to stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. The DORA’s hours will be in line with that deadline.

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City leaders say they support closing Fifth Street largely for public safety reasons since people need to socially distance to stay safe.

“We understand these are unprecedented times for Dayton’s small businesses,” said Mayor Nan Whaley. “The city of Dayton supports efforts like Out on 5th that create additional revenue opportunities while maintaining public safety standards.”

But Martin said residents in the neighborhood were not consulted about the closure and he’s worried that activities on Fifth Street will disrupt the peace of the neighborhood.

People stroll through the Oregon District on Saturday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

He said he fears more alcohol consumption and opportunities will lead to more trouble and that could hurt property values.

“How much drinking do we need in this city?” he asked.

But Mendenhall, VP of the Oregon District Business Association, said the outdoor drinking area is just one small piece of what Out on Fifth will provide for businesses and visitors.

She said the tagline of the program is “dine, shop, relax outdoors” because it provides expanded patio dining options for specific restaurants and offers communal tables that visitors can use to carry out food or alcoholic beverages or just sit and relax and take in the sights while maintaining a safe distance from others.

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