Paul Giorgio: Food Trucks Don’t Save Cities
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
What makes a vibrant city are people, restaurants, clubs, safe neighborhoods and good schools. What makes a great city are 21st century jobs.
Last week the City Council’s Economic Development Committee held a hearing on changing Worcester’s ordinance on food trucks. Currently, you cannot have a food truck within 500 feet of an existing restaurant without the permission of the restaurant owners. The ordinance has served the city well for the past several years. However some think, that the ordnance is outdated. Some in the city think that food trucks create an exciting atmosphere.
Before we abandon the current ordinance, let us review why we have one in the first place. There were two distinct reasons that an ordinance was put in place. One was because a food truck was parked outside a bricks and mortar restaurant in the downtown area. The second reason was that a food truck was set up in residential neighborhood and only operated after the bars closed at 2 am. These are two very good reasons to regulate the trucks.
No restaurant owner who spends literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to open his or her doors and then pays substantial real estate taxes, meals taxes, and FICA for their employees wants a food truck that is not regulated and pays no real estate taxes outside the front door.
The reason people go to a certain restaurant is because they know it will be there the next time they want to dine. A food truck may be in a different spot.
So how do we accommodate food trucks in Worcester?
I think the first thing we need to do is encourage different kinds of food trucks. There are dozens of wiener wagons and ice cream trucks, but not one truck that sells BBQ or Bahn Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich.
There are underserved areas of the city. Maybe we can have food trucks on City Hall Plaza. Food trucks may be appropriate in our larger parks. Right now the city only allows one food truck per park, because the truck pays for the rights to that park. Let’s expand that.
I don’t think we need or want food trucks on Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street, where there are about 40 restaurants already. Main Street is problematic, because the eateries there are struggling now. Water Street has several restaurants, so that is a nonstarter too.
But with a revised food truck ordinance, also comes added oversight. Who gets the meals tax, which in Worcester partially goes to market the city? Who inspects the food trucks and who insures that they are paying their fair share of taxes? The answers to those questions need to become part of the solution.
So the City Council should tweak the food truck ordinance, but they should also look at how they can help Worcester’s struggling restaurants. It took 7 years to get workable outdoor dining ordinance in Worcester. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that long to properly regulate food trucks.
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