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Thursday afternoon, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission had a public hearing considering an ordinance that would allow mobile food vendors (i.e. food trucks, carts, and so on) to operate on private property such as parking lots. Cities such as Portland, OR, have set the precedent for such an ordinance, with whole lots filled with trucks and tents offering wide varieties of food, from hamburgers and pizza to more ethnic and gourmet options such as Indian and Korean. A study in 2008 found that food carts had an overall positive impact on cities like Portland.
This was a controversial issue for many downtown restaurant owners, who believe that mobile vendors could undermine brick and mortar restaurants with more investment in the city. Greg Gilmore, owner of The Gilmore Collection which includes The BOB, said that he would one day like to support this, but sees the downtown food and beverage market as being "too fragile...Grand Rapids is not Portland."
A number of other restaurant owners from places such as Ritz Koney, Tre Cugini, and The Dog Pit also spoke against the ordinance, believing that this would be damaging to the downtown economy and lead them to shutting their doors.
A few private citizens spoke in favor of lifting the ordinance and allowing for more mobile food vendors. Brett Powers, who works downtown at the Lacks Cancer Center thought that What the Truck being parked downtown during Artprize was a positive thing and allowed for a convenient and inexpensive alternative to other downtown eateries.
Paul Lee, owner of The Winchester and What the Truck believed that keeping a restaurant, whether a truck or brick and mortar, "is always a struggle." However Lee did not support the measure as it was written, believing it to be too restrictive, mostly in terms of the hours the Planning Commission would currrently allow the mobile vendors to operate.
Jeff Hill, of Rapid Growth Media, explained in a nutshell the feelings of many of the supporters of an ordinance that would allow food trucks on private property. "We need more options," Hill said. "I'm going to go where the food is good."
Once the public portion of the hearing was finished, the commissioners discussed their options and eventually voted to hold off and work on bringing the various parties to agreement. The ordinance will be presented again before the commission in April. "If we mishandle this, there will be more vacancies downtown," Commissioner Paul Potter said.