Downtown DORA: What is it and what can you expect?

You’re out for drinks with friends, and you have a decision to make. Do you drain half of your remaining cocktail before heading to the TinCaps game at Parkview Field, or do you leave your drink unfinished? You can’t take it with you—yet. But with a new designated outdoor refreshment area (DORA) in downtown Fort Wayne, that’s about to change.

The new initiative will launch just in time to enrich Fort Wayne’s downtown atmosphere this summer. Within a DORA, patrons can order alcoholic beverages from participating vendors and take their drinks with them in designated to-go cups as they stroll downtown.

Rachel Von Art LLCPint & Slice Manager Tristan Wright pours a Miller Lite. Pint & Slice is one of several businesses that will participate in the Downtown DORA.In July of 2023, the state of Indiana passed a law allowing municipalities to establish DORAs as a way to boost the local economy. Now, after receiving approval from the Fort Wayne City Council and the Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, Downtown Fort Wayne has a green light to implement the first DORA in the city, fittingly named the Downtown DORA. It will encompass much of the area between Promenade Park and Parkview Field, including the Landing.

Preserving the heart of Fort Wayne

The DORA is a result of a collaborative effort among several local stakeholders, including restaurant owners, the City of Fort Wayne, and Downtown Fort Wayne. In addition to lobbying for the establishment of the DORA, these local representatives have done extensive research on how a DORA would influence Fort Wayne’s economy, safety and reputation.

“If you search anything about Fort Wayne, the activities that pop up are always family-friendly, and that family friendliness is the fabric of who we are as a community,” says James Khan, president of ObiCai Restaurant Group. Khan’s restaurant, Próximo, falls within the boundary of the Downtown DORA. “We wanted something that adults could enjoy without degrading that fabric of our community.”

Since the ability to apply for a DORA is new in Indiana, advocates for the Downtown DORA had to look to examples of DORAs in other states to learn about the challenges or barriers those communities faced. 

Rachel Von Art LLCCalhoun St. is within the Downtown DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area) boundary.“Anytime you start a new program, you start by asking the question of what problems it’s going to raise, so we had a whole team dedicated to research for the DORA,” says Andrea Robinson, an economic development administrator for the City of Fort Wayne. “We wanted to know what issues would come from this and what solutions we’d need to find. But when we spoke to representatives from other cities, everyone spoke highly of how the DORA increased revenue and foot traffic for local bars and business owners. There were no issues that stuck out as red flags.”

Representatives from the City of Fort Wayne and Downtown Fort Wayne received feedback from people involved with DORAs in Ohio municipalities, including Cincinnati, Toledo, Defiance and Van Wert.

“Toledo is going on year seven of their DORA, and their representatives told us they’ve seen immense success with the entire program,” says Preston Wallace, director of marketing at Downtown Fort Wayne. “They go through up to 170,000 DORA cups on an annual basis, which is a notably high volume. They also have about 40 to 50 bars and restaurants participating within the footprint of their DORA.”

Rachel Von Art LLCA sign at Main Street and Calhoun Street reminds people of the rules within the new Downtown DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area).Through conversations with Toledo and other markets, Fort Wayne’s research team also heard positive stories about corporate buy-in, public feedback and even law enforcement response. One of the main concerns people in the community have expressed about the DORA is whether it will increase public disturbances and crime rates. 

“Across the board, we saw overwhelming support for DORAs within our community,” says Wallace. “Business owners, law enforcement and local governments had nothing but positive feedback. It wasn’t just restaurant owners and operators we heard from, but the patrons in the community as a whole—which was really encouraging.”

Setting clear parameters for safety

After gathering evidence of how DORAs benefited communities, Fort Wayne leaders turned toward planning the implementation of the Downtown DORA. The initiative’s success depends highly on the education of the community, so people know what to expect from the DORA and what limitations it has.

Rachel Von Art LLCA sign at Berry Street and Calhoun Street reminds people of the rules within the new Downtown DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area).“We don’t just want to launch this and see what happens,” says Robinson. “We want to have everything in place to promote public safety and responsible consumption. The signs for the Downtown DORA will be clear. We’ll have special cups that designate people as participants, and everyone will know when they’re within the boundary and when they’re leaving. We’ll make sure people have plenty of opportunities to throw their cups away before they leave the DORA footprint so that no one is accidentally breaking the law. It’s important for everyone to understand that it’s not just a free-for-all.”

Among the tasks that must be completed before the Downtown DORA can take effect is the addition of at least 22 new garbage cans within the DORA boundary, complete with DORA logos, that will be designated for the specialty cups. The garbage cans will also have lids that prevent people from pulling cups out of them.

“As a parent, I know how important it is to make sure the DORA doesn’t create a dangerous environment for kids,” says Robinson. “We want parents to know their kids aren’t wandering around pulling half-empty cups of liquor out of trash cans. We have rules that dictate how people can enjoy themselves so that this can be a good and safe experience for everyone.”

Designated Downtown Fort Wayne DORA to-go cupsDowntown Fort Wayne is partnering with Brightmark to recycle the one-time-use DORA plastic cups and work toward more sustainable environmental practices. Brightmark is a circular innovation company with a mission to “Reimagine Waste.” Brightmark’s Circularity Centers™ will receive Fort Wayne’s plastic type one DORA cups and use them to generate new products, which keeps the cups out of landfills.

Some are already concerned about the use of plastic cups, inquiring about the possibility of using aluminum or compostable cups. Leaders from Downtown Fort Wayne say it's other options have not been ruled out and a different material is something they're willing to consider, but initial research showed the biggest obstacle with other options is the cost implications, which would be passed on to the approved businesses and vendors. 

Cultivating camaraderie and community

State legislators passed the law to allow DORAs in Indiana as part of a movement to boost local economies—but the benefits the Downtown DORA will offer Fort Wayne extend beyond the financial bump it might give local restaurants.

Rachel Von Art LLCA sign at Wayne St. and Calhoun St. in downtown Fort Wayne reminds people of the rules within the new DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area).“Some of the key factors people are looking for when they move to places like Fort Wayne are quality of life and community,” says Khan. “Especially as technology has drawn us into our phones and computers, people are yearning for things that can get us into the vibrancy of community. The DORA will allow people to do that. You can attend an event, enjoy an experience and visit multiple businesses without being confined to a restaurant. You’ll be able to run into other people you know and create stronger ties with your community as you grow your interpersonal relationships.”

For local leaders who supported this initiative at its earliest stages, the DORA has always been about more than just taking a drink outside. It’s an opportunity to engage with others and spend time outside during the warmest months of the year, enjoying the vibrant culture of downtown Fort Wayne.

“We already have a very walkable and accessible downtown, so I’m really excited for people to come from the suburbs and other areas to enjoy the public art, alleyways, shops, restaurants, entertainment and more,” says Wallace. “A DORA will enhance that experience and enable people to spend more time downtown.”

The DORA also makes outdoor events easier. For concerts and festivities that fall within the natural boundary of the DORA, it will no longer be necessary to get special permits or erect temporary fencing. This will make it less expensive for business owners if they want to host something outdoors.

Local business owners are excited to see how the DORA will increase foot traffic downtown and encourage more people to explore the city.

Rachel Von Art LLCThe Landing features several businesses that will participate in the Downtown DORA.“The DORA will allow for a really unique atmosphere in Fort Wayne,” says Brendon Maxwell, who owns Utopian Coffee on the Landing. “Imagine live music on one block, the art scene on another, and you're just walking around with a beverage while supporting local businesses.”

Gary Skeel, who owns Copper Spoon and The Sidecar near Parkview Field, says the DORA will connect businesses by allowing people to go shopping and take their time while enjoying their drinks.

“Instead of having to finish a drink too quickly before exiting a restaurant because you don’t want to waste it, you can just take it with you,” says Skeel. “I’m excited to see how our refreshing, tropical Sidecar drinks move on a warm summer night this year.”

After spending several months researching and planning the vision for the Downtown DORA, local leaders will finally see it come to life this month—and the future is bright with more potential DORAs in the works. The DORA is expected to go into effect on May 5. Additionally, at the beginning of April, Fort Wayne City Council approved a second DORA, which will encompass the Electric Works campus.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how the Downtown DORA—and any DORAs that come later—will foster a sense of community in Fort Wayne,” says Robinson. “It allows people who don’t or can’t drink to be outside in the same spaces as people who do, when they may not have that capability in other areas. With the DORA, we get the opportunity to enjoy outdoor spaces together.”

Courtesy, the State of IndianaA map outline the Downtown DORA boundaries.
This story is made possible by support from Downtown Fort Wayne.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Bailey Gerber.

Bailey Gerber has lived in northern Indiana for her entire life, and Fort Wayne is the place she feels most at home. She’s a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne (when she isn’t writing marketing materials for her day job). Bailey holds a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in creative writing.