While a Leadership Tompkins group continues to develop a policy and pilot program for food trucks in the City of Ithaca, another avenue for food truck vendors may available this year.
Jes Seaver, director of Ithaca Festival, proposed the establishment of food truck roundups — where a group of food trucks gather in a central location to create a food court-like environment — to the Board of Public Works at its meeting March 11.
Seaver explained that the city’s Food Truck Association would serve as the organizer for the roundups — mirroring the structure of the Ithaca Farmers Market — coordinating logistics like seating, garbage collection and clean up for the three to seven trucks in the roundup.
“In that way, the food truck association would work with the city to get whatever permit and then we would organize all of the vendors and we would pick up the trash,” said Seaver.
Individual food trucks would pay a use fee, Seaver proposed $20, which would be collected and paid per vending event to the city. The particpating food trucks would pay an additional $5 directly to the FTA for waste removal.
Under the city’s current policies, the roundups would have to be located on private property, but Seaver approached the board about setting up a roundup similar to vendors at the Tuesday Farmers Markets at DeWitt Park, proposing that food truck vendors park along Cayuga Street at Thompson Park with the vendors serving food on the sidewalk side. Only vendors operating out of a truck or enclosed trailers would be permitted to ensure the cleanliness of the food court atmosphere.
Seaver proposed the roundup take place twice a week, suggesting Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May to September; the times are negotiable.
“There are food truck owners that want to continue to have a location on private property all of the time and only join the round up once in a while,” she said. “However there are two other food trucks that want to do only the roundup, so from a small business perspective it makes sense to have a roundup at least two times a week. I think that’s a really good starting point.”
Thompson Park is not the only location the FTA has considered for roundups. Washington Park, property and parking lots along the inlet off Taughannock Boulevard and areas around Cass and Stewart Parks have also been considered as potential city-owned locations. Private property, like the Ithaca Journal parking lot, have also been discussed, Seaver said.
“The reason why I suggested Thompson Park initially is I think it’s a perfect location,” said Seaver, emphasizing that Thompson Park is just the first option. “It has a lot of things that makes it the perfect spot.”
Mayor Svante Myrick agreed, pointing to the traffic in the area, lack of restaurants and the surrounding neighborhoods as benefits to the roundup.
“I think the neighborhood would really enjoy it,” said Seaver. “We polled some of those neighbors in the region.”
While many members of the board expressed support for the proposal, Commissioner Claudia Jenkins expressed concern about the location.
“I’m not feeling that area at all because I thought it would be even better around DeWitt Park like the Farmers Market because you’re downtown, you’re bringing more people to the downtown stores,” she said. “People can walk more readily to DeWitt Park then all the way down Cayuga Street. You’re going to end up with traffic, with cars, trying to get to the food trucks.”
Jenkins suggested using DeWitt Park on the “off-days” of Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, rather than adding traffic to an area she described as already dangerous with the intersection of Cascadilla and Cayuga streets.
Ray Benjamin, acting superintendent of public works, said he likes the idea of DeWitt Park only being used once a week, since the department has trouble maintaining the grass between the sidewalk and the road as it is.
“If there’s a regular rotation of different places, I don’t see that being any kind of a problem,” he said. “That’d be my only concern.”
Commissioner Govind Acharya favored the Thompson Park proposal, suggesting the FTA consider kicking off the roundup by tying it to the Streets Alive event on May 5.
“I think having that type of kickoff will allow people to see that this may be a regular thing through the summer and a place to go in the evening hours with families,” he said. “There are tons of families in both those neighborhoods that would afford itself nicely. I personally like the idea.”
“I think this is terrific,” said Alderperson Donna Fleming, Common Council liaison to the board. “I hope that you meet with success.”
Fleming suggested establishing a roundup in the Bryant Park area.
Seaver said the goal is to add more locations after the first season.
“As people start to become familiar with the concept, you can start to do that more and more,” she said. “But I do think as a pilot, it is important to have a location where you are there more than once a week.”
Myrick said he wanted to find a way to approve the proposal before there is a standing policy on where food trucks are allowed in the city, adding that the proposal fits more closely with how the city permits events.
“It’s more of an event than a permit,” he said.
Since there is no current avenue for food trucks on public property, city staff is assisting Seaver fill out an application for a special event. With the completed application, Seaver will return to the board for approval sometime in April.