Tuesday, September 20, 2011

UPDATE: Fountain Square Food Vendor Restrictions

Get your own intense street-food lovin' T-shirt from Look At Me Shirts here.

Wow, this story I broke a week ago Sunday sure ended up getting some attention, didn’t it? It was picked up by Channel 5, Channel 9, Channel 12, and Fox 19 at various points as it developed, and the Enquirer ran a follow-up here. Plus a whole lot of social media going on.

I did finally receive a response from 3CDC Friday (while I was at work and before I headed out of town for the weekend), pretty much the same one you may have already read elsewhere. I’ll include it at the bottom of this post since I promised to share 3CDC’s side of the story.

Food vendors will still be permitted on Fountain Square for specific events, says 3CDC, but apparently not on the regular lunchtime basis we have seen. 3CDC’s response states: “We have also been working with the City Administration on allowing Food Truck venders around the Square on both Fifth and Vine Street.”

Food tents seem to be the target – specifically the large one on the east edge of the Square with Skyline Chili branding – which housed Skyline Chili, Tom + Chee, and Eli’s BBQ for weekday lunches this summer, and sometimes other food vendors for evening events. Utilization of space on the Square is cited by 3CDC as being part of its rationale: “To allow us to continue to program larger events while also maintaining the ample space for lunch crowds, the decision has been made to remove the food tent from the Square.”

3CDC executive vice president Chad Munitz is quoted in the Enquirer’s follow-up piece as saying “the tent will be coming down a few weeks early to free up room to repair damaged granite and trees.” The large Skyline tent is usually taken down in the fall to make way for the installation of the U.S. Bank-sponsored ice skating rink. But Tom + Chee has been told they will not be able to offer up their hot chocolate and noshes this ice-skating season.

The press release states that the Tuesday summer lunchtime Market on the Square sponsored by law firm Strauss + Troy will be back in 2012. This summer it included a handful of vendors offering Tuesday-only take-away lunch options from vendors like Cooking With Caitlin (which has participated for several seasons), but fewer than in previous years. This summer Market on the Square included one produce vendor, a couple of bread/dessert vendors, a spice vendor, a pet food vendor, and a majority of vendors of non-food-related wares, all in covered booths.

Those same covered booths are used by a variety of organizations, including many non-profits, for a plethora of events on the Square. And the Square puts up umbrellas over many of the tables on the Square provided for the public’s comfort and on-Square dining (wherever their food may come from).

So, how exactly will all this shake out among “the tent(s),” “the booths,” and “the umbrellas”? What roles do aesthetics vs. space vs. other factors play a part in the new Fountain Square plan? I'm waiting to see.

Tom + Chee, which got its start on a shoestring on Fountain Square last year and has now expanded to two storefront businesses (one on Court Street and one at Newport on the Levee), says: “We would totally get a smaller pretty tent if that's what's needed. We could take it down every day and keep things pretty!”

The owner of Eli’s BBQ, who also started with limited funds, told Fox 19 he attracted customers one day at a time serving home-cooked food on the Square with affordable weekday lunches that helped him build his business. “It's been a great incubator and it's a shame to see it go."

And what are the chances the city’s food trucks – another arm of Cincinnati’s entrepreneurial street food movement – will actually be allowed to park on Fountain Square or on the street at Fifth and Vine, particularly during events/times when they can get enough foot traffic yet remain safe? A lot remains to be seen, and you know I’ll be following it.

Meanwhile, I’m a fan of a lot of local brick-and-mortar food businesses as well. And I have the Culinary Smackdown: Battle Oktoberfest to prep for (hosted this month by Small Girl Adventures). Details here.

Stop back later in the week for fresh content.

The response I received from 3CDC:

This is not a complete elimination of food on the square – We will still have events such as the Tuesday Strauss & Troy Market. While there will not be a permanent food tent, food will be back at some events, just not all events. We have also been working with the City Administration on allowing Food Truck venders around the Square on both Fifth and Vine Street.

Through an agreement with the City of Cincinnati, 3CDC has actively programmed Fountain Square for the past five years. Over these years, we have seen an exponential growth in Cincinnati’s downtown core and specifically, in event participation on Fountain Square. While actively programming the Square it is our main goal to provide quality, clean, safe, fun, and diverse options downtown.

To allow us to continue to program larger events while also maintaining the ample space for lunch crowds, the decision has been made to remove the food tent from the Square. It will be removed at the end of September and will not return. 3CDC is currently looking into other avenues for food service during future 3CDC programmed events.

3CDC would like to thank Skyline Chili for their generous sponsorship of the food tent over the last three years. We are proud of this partnership and look forward to finding new and exciting ways to partner in the future.


Aunty Belle said...

no kiddin'?? this is too too koolio, Eggy. Wow--soon youse gonna be a celeb in yore own right, huh? jes' doan fergit all us regulars--k?

moi said...

I've never been to Cincinnati, so I can't speak to the debate about aesthetics. I could see the city and the planner's point if this were a debate about public-versus-private property: do these food tent businesses have the right to establish a business on land they neither own nor rent? In which case the solution would be to simply assess a fee that would be paid to the city or the owner of the property. Because in this economy, WHY anyone want to chase these folks off?

Jenny said...

Food trucks and tents are something most cities don't have a clear policy on. It's very similar to what happened with Espresso carts in the early 1990's (before Starbucks put them out of bidness) In Seattle, the local restaurants don't like them and our health inspectors don't know what to do with them either in regards to permits, so it's become easier just to ban them... until very recently.

and just because I think it's interesting... there is one very popular food truck that recently opened an actual restaurant and I went the other night... it was packed.