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Mishawaka officials consider open carry for alcohol around Irownworks Plaza

 DORA area in downtown Mishawaka
Graphic provided
Map of proposed DORA area in downtown Mishawaka

For some the term DORA resonates as a children’s TV show, but for Mishawaka the term has a more adult context.

Allowed under a new state law, DORA stands for designated outside refreshment area and the measure allows for cities to set up defined locations where people can carry alcoholic drinks while walking around. The new law has popped up in Mishawaka as city officials have mixed feelings on whether to allow open containers of alcohol in the Ironworks Plaza area.

Mayor Dave Wood’s administration is pushing for the special area saying the ability to openly carry alcohol will draw in more and larger events. Parks superintendent Phil Blasko emphasized in a meeting on Monday that DORA only allows alcohol purchased with licensed vendors in the area and that the city can set whatever hours it wants for the DORA to be in effect.

“I believe that DORA will allow more people to come down to our market to support the 70 vendors we have a week, because now you can have a beer and walk down Ironworks Avenue and drink that beer and support local vendors,” said Blasko.

As it stands now, vendors wishing to serve alcohol at events have to put up extra fencing, which can be expensive, or get additional permits, which can be onerous.

But council members seemed less enthusiastic about the idea. First District Democrat Dale Emmons questioned whether the ordinance would be the best fit for the area.

“Are we getting away from a family oriented-thing, or are we producing an area where it benefits the vendors by selling more beer?” Emmons asked.

Members of the public who spoke at the meeting were evenly divided on the issue. Carly Chelminiak, who lives across the river on West Mishawaka Avenue, said the DORA is more practical and she doesn’t foresee any problems from unruly patrons.

"The way it's set up now logistically just doesn't make a lot of sense," she said, noting that a DORA area would let parents supervise their children who are running around outside while also enjoying an alcoholic beverage.

Earlier in the meeting Mishawaka Police Chief Ken Witkowski echoed Chelminiak’s comments and said in his experience, type of entertainment affects whether crowds become raucous, not necessarily the availability of alcohol.

Mishawaka development director Matthew Lentsch continually emphasized that many other cities in neighboring states have DORAs and have experienced minimal problems, though some residents cautioned against undue comparisons between Mishawaka and other towns.

Christine Miller, who spoke against the open carry of alcohol, said she’s concerned about minors getting access to alcohol and patrons being over served.

"What's to stop one of you, walking in there, walking out with two beverages and handing one to my 17-year-old," she said. "Once you are outside the doors of that establishment it's no longer the responsibility of the serves or the managers of that facility."

Other council members, including Democrat Mike Compton and Republican Maggie DeMaegd, expressed reservations about moving forward. Democrat Gregg Hixenbaugh pointed out that the council had a lot of latitude in deciding what areas and what times the DORA could go in effect.

Hixenbaugh said the council isn’t scheduled to take up the proposal again until September, though he anticipates the issue may require more discussion.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.