Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI) today announced its support for a draft proposed ordinance that would free food truck businesses to operate independently on public property in the City of Grand Rapids.
Currently the City has no ordinance designed specifically to allow or manage food trucks on public property. Therefore food trucks, which continue to grow in popularity locally and across the United States, are basically only allowed to do business on a limited basis at special events in public places and specially permitted instances on private property.
The proposed ordinance, which will be introduced at the July 12 City Commission meeting, proposes a market-based approach that enables food trucks to serve customers by parking at city parks, curbside along city streets and other city-owned public rights-of-way areas.
“Food trucks provide us a proven way to expand culinary entrepreneurship, grow more small businesses and jobs, activate public spaces, increase consumer food choices and boost our already exciting local culinary scene as a whole,” said Kristopher Larson, president and CEO Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. “This proposed ordinance aspires to advance common-sense changes that will allow our burgeoning local food truck industry to grow and thrive.”
DGRI currently is working with such community partners as LINC, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Start Garden, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, and Local First among others to organize a town hall meeting to discuss the significance of the local food truck industry and the objectives of the draft proposed ordinance. The town hall is scheduled for 5:30 PM on July 20 and will be held at LINC 1422 Madison Avenue SE.
The proposed ordinance comes after months of conversation facilitated by DGRI and City staff with local restauranteurs, food truck owners and other community stakeholders. The ordinance is informed by best practices from other major U.S. and Michigan cities where practical regulations have enabled communities to take advantage of the many benefits food trucks offer while also addressing the concerns of key stakeholders. The ordinance as proposed establishes rules that help traditional local restaurants, enhance public safety and promotes entrepreneurship and economic activity.
More specifically, the ordinance proposes to:
- Streamline the business licensing process by requiring a single license for the food truck business. Currently, the City requires licensure of all food truck employees under its Transient Merchant License process.
- Enable food trucks to operate in public parks, open spaces and rights-of-ways.
- Prioritize protection of public health and safety. For the first time, the ordinance requires that all food truck businesses operating in the city get regular fire safety inspections.
- Prohibit vending within 100 feet of traditional restaurants.
- Clearly define all vendor responsibilities related to trash management, hours of operation, noise controls and other operating guidelines.
“I’m in favor of making it easier for food trucks to operate in Grand Rapids for several reasons,” said Mark Sellers, founder and CEO of BarFly Ventures, the parent company of HopCat, Stella's Lounge, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and the Waldron Public House in Downtown Grand Rapids.
“First, food trucks often serve as petri dishes for future restaurant concepts, so more food trucks will result in more interesting new restaurants in Grand Rapids in the future.
“Second, it costs a lot less for a great chef to start up a food truck, making the dream of opening a restaurant accessible to low income residents who are culinarily talented but can’t afford to open a brick-and-mortar location. Anything that makes it easier for someone to start a new business is a good thing.”
“Third, food trucks are interesting to consumers, and bringing more of them to the city will serve as a magnet for people to come Downtown and other business districts. Anything that brings more people Downtown and to the city is a good thing. Nearly all consumers want food trucks as a dining option. The City should make it as easy as safely possible for food trucks to exist alongside other dining options."
Citizens expressed broad support for expanding the presence of food trucks during the process of shaping GR Forward, the community plan and investment strategy to guide the next generation of growth in Downtown Grand Rapids. Participants generally viewed food trucks as a way to help activate underutilized public spaces and make the city more vibrant. The City Commission adopted GR Forward as amendment to the City Master Plan in December 2015.
The Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Board of Advisors in May 2016 urged the City Commission to adopt a streamlined regulatory process for food trucks that allow the businesses to operate in the public realm while respecting the proximity of traditional restaurants.
“I am grateful for the collaborative work of City staff, DGRI, food truck owners and other community members have done to develop this draft conceptual ordinance,” said Mayor Bliss, who called for a more food-truck-friendly city policy in her 2016 State of the City Address. “I very much look forward to the discussion around the City Commission table and hearing the ideas that others in the community have for food trucks.”
The City Commission at their July 12 meeting will consider setting a July 26 public hearing to provide citizens the formal opportunity to comment on the proposed ordinance.
Grand Rapids City Commission Materials
All documents in PDF format.