The city of Akron has invested substantially in revitalizing downtown, leaders wisely recognizing that the health of the central city affects a far broader area. Private interests, among them restaurateurs, have responded, playing a strong role in the resurgence, the welcome result a renewed interest in the city’s core.
The City Council now is preparing to weigh the impact of a new addition: food trucks. The mobile vendors are free to operate on private property within the city or when invited by the organizers of festivals and other events. The question is whether to license and regulate food trucks to operate on a day-to-day basis in public rights of way.
Members of the Downtown Akron Partnership have raised understandable concerns about trucks competing with bricks-and-mortar restaurants. An additional element of risk for those who have chosen to invest may be an unfair burden, the recovery of downtown still a work in progress.
Food truck operators have lobbied the City Council, pointing to nearly two-dozen trucks operating in Cleveland. There, the city started a pilot program in 2010, subsidizing the trucks with low-interest loans as an added attraction in some parts of the city. The five trucks in the Akron area are pushing for a similar program.
A special committee, with representatives from the downtown partnership and food truck operators, must study the situation carefully, looking at the experiences in other cities and how they compare to Akron. With their low overhead, the trucks could undercut existing restaurants. It also may be that the emergence of food truck operators is a positive development, part of an improved downtown. There may be room for both to fare well.
City Council President Garry Moneypenny’s approach is the right way to go, the committee first gathering the facts necessary to make the right decision. Any licensing system must balance the impact on existing restaurants against the potential draw created by food trucks, keeping at the forefront not so much the interests of one side or the other but what best serves downtown as a whole.