BY ANGIE JACKSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — It’s official: Food trucks can set up their roaming shops downtown starting May 16.
Traverse City commissioners agreed by a 5-to-2 count to allow up to two mobile food vendors to operate year-round in four city parking lots and on State Street between Union and Pine streets. The designated parking lots near downtown are: the volleyball courts, Union Street dam, U.S. Post Office and the farmers market site. Vendors cannot operate while the market is in progress.
The ordinance also allows up to two trucks on some streets near Northwestern Michigan College, the Civic Center, Munson Medical Center, and some of the city’s larger parks.
Vendors will pay $1,225 annually to park on city and private property, $725 for city property only, and $500 for private property only. Space will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
“We think this is a compromise. Everyone was a little bit happy. Everyone was little bit unhappy,” said Commissioner Mary Ann Moore, who thought the city’s vending ordinance that charged food trucks $100 a day to operate on private property was a real “deal killer.”
Commissioner Jim Carruthers said more freedom for food trucks can be a vehicle for attracting the young, creative class to Traverse City, and it “really isn’t going to affect the brick and mortar business.”
Nick McAllister, owner of House of Doggs, argues the opposite. He worries his business will take a hit in the summer — the most critical season for business.
”All I’ve been fighting for is my employees because it’s just not that lucrative of a business,” McAllister said. “It’s a lot of rent and taxes and everything just to be in these prime locations downtown.”
Simon Joseph, owner of Roaming Harvest food truck, wanted the ordinance to allow for longer hours so trucks could cater to the bar crowd. Vendors can operate from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. in the city parking lots and along State Street, and 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. in semi-residential areas.
“You have two sides that debated a long time. When you end up with an ordinance that neither side really loved, that’s a good compromise,” Joseph said.
It was good news for Gary Jonas, whose upcoming bar called The Little Fleet will permanently host at least five food trucks at its East Front Street location in the former Jack’s Market. He and his wife, Allison, plan to open the bar before the end of May.
They also own a restaurant and a bar in Brooklyn, where a food truck culture is established.
”I think it’s going to bring a lot of spirit to our city,” Jonas said.
Commissioner Barbara Budros voted against the ordinance because of reservations about trucks allowed near Traverse City Central High School.
”High school students are whipping in and out of that parking lot ... I just think it can be a bad situation,” she said.
She’d like to see data in October, when the commission will evaluate the ordinance.
Downtown Development Authority officials underwent an extensive process to gather public input for its ordinance recommendation to the city commission. The city commission made some tweaks.
”Let’s see what happens,” said DDA executive director Bryan Crough. “We are encouraged ... that there will be a serious ongoing evaluation on how this is working and how this is impacting downtown.”