BY KATHY GIBBONS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Downtown Development Authority officials will meet Friday to stew over what, if any, recommendation to make to city commissioners on where food trucks might peddle their fare in the downtown district.
About 80 people crowded a DDA session this week to hear where things stand on a possible ordinance to govern mobile food units and what role the DDA may have in that process
City officials asked the DDA to weigh in on where it thinks food trucks should be permitted downtown. After discussing it at their January meeting, the DDA decided to solicit public input
Most of those who spoke were restaurant owners who oppose food trucks downtown. Peter Makin, owner of Brilliant Books, said food trucks tend to operate only in the summer and take business away from established eateries that pay hefty costs to stay in business and rely on higher summer volume to counter the lean off season.
“We have all these costs associated with having a brick and mortar business that we have to have and I love to supply, and I’m not complaining,” said Randy Waclawski, co-owner of The Dish. “I just want the playing field to be even.”
Wally Green, owner of the Green House Cafe, said he agreed with other restaurant owners who don’t want food trucks close to their businesses.
“All we’re doing is cutting up pieces of the pie and allowing people to come in and make money during the summer,” he said. “It’s not fair.”
Longtime downtown Traverse City businessman and property owner Bruce Rogers said it would be a mistake to ban food trucks. Instead, he recommended they be concentrated in an area near the river — a concept that capitalizes on what he said is an underutilized asset and is similar to one he saw thriving in a European city.
“You need to limit it to one place,” he said. “I believe it’s an opportunity and I think you can think about it if you do it right.”
Simon Joseph, owner of the Roaming Harvest food truck and currently the only permit holder for a food truck in Traverse City, said allowing food trucks gives entrepreneurs a chance to develop their products and brand before taking the leap into a fixed location.
He’s also involved in a group called TC Street Food, which has garnered a Facebook following since it was launched a few weeks ago. A petition favoring food trucks downtown has more than 500 signatures, he said.
And banning food trucks hasn’t worked in other communities, he added. City Attorney Lauren Trible-Laucht already said such moves have been challenged around the country; banning competition with existing businesses is not reason enough to disallow them, efforts elsewhere show.
DDA Board members John Di Giacomo, Leah McCallum-Bagdon and Rick Korndorfer comprised a committee to examine the issue. Di Giacomo and McCallum-Bagdon developed a proposal that would prohibit mobile food units along Front Street between Boardman and Union, and within 20 feet of any intersection.
Korndorfer said he had “some more reservations than they do.”
“I do own downtown property and I know how difficult it is for those small retailers to make a living,” he said. “I know the food truck people are anxious to have this happen, but the reality is you heard every one of those merchants that was a food vendor from downtown had reservations. They weren’t in favor of it and I’m not going to turn my back on them.”
Board Chair Stephen Constantin met with DDA staff Wednesday to prep for Friday’s meeting.
“What we’re going to try to do on Friday is the idea of giving the DDA board something to work with rather than just the one (proposal) that had been presented ...,” Constantin said. “That one is going to be there and we didn’t feel that was the only one.”