Westfield weighing rules of the road for food trucks

February 11, 2014
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Mere months from opening day at its massive Grand Park Sports Campus, Westfield is drafting rules intended to protect nearby businesses from crowd-hungry food trucks.

A work-in-progress ordinance introduced to the Westfield City Council on Monday would only allow mobile food vendors to roll into town for special events, neighborhood parties and at the invitation of large employers—as long as they stay away from Grand Park.

The 400-acre youth sports megaplex debuting this spring is an economic development play for Westfield, which is looking to increase commercial investment and diversify its tax base. Officials are hoping all kinds of businesses are drawn to the million-plus visitors expected to flock to the park each year.

“This is going to become a pretty popular place,” said Matt Skelton, the city’s director of economic and community development.

Several bricks-and-mortar vendors have expressed interest in setting up shop at or near Grand Park, he told the council, but they’re understandably concerned about the potential for mobile competition.

Council President Jim Ake said it’s time for Westfield to lay out the rules of the road.

Other Hamilton County suburbs already have paved the way. Fishers passed an ordinance regulating food trucks in March, and Noblesville approved zoning changes—and an intentionally onerous $1,000 annual fee—in August.

As it stands now, Westfield’s proposed ordinance does not include a fee for the mobile vendors, which already must pay $100 for a county permit to sell food. (Fishers charges $200.) Skelton said the goal is to clarify the city’s policy, not create an additional layer of bureaucracy.

“We want to avoid a situation where trucks are pulling up to the curb to sell food and competing with the folks making an investment in our community,” he said.

The ordinance identifies an area around Grand Park—bounded by 196th Street to the north, State Road 32 to the south, U.S. 31 to the east and Spring Mill Road to the west—that's essentially off limits for food trucks.

Revisions are likely before the council votes on the ordinance. Members offered a range of suggestions Monday, and Ake said he wants public input on the proposal before it is finalized.

What’s your take on the ongoing food-truck debate? Do the mobile kitchens really pose a threat to restaurants?

  • Well,,,,,
    While I agree with the statement Jim makes - “We want to avoid a situation where trucks are pulling up to the curb to sell food and competing with the folks making an investment in our community,” - I wonder if there will be enough vendors the first year or so for all the hungry people hanging out at Grand Park. To make that place 'off limits' to food trucks seems to be limiting yourself. Why not embrace the diversity the trucks bring - not everyone will want the overpriced hot dogs and burgers that would be offered at the concession stands - and until the area is fully fleshed out with merchants, what is there to eat around that place? I think it would be a great benefit for the food trucks to bring their diversity to the area. Maybe it would be a draw for 'non sporting' people to go their for the food trucks. Maybe food trucks can bring something to the community. Maybe food trucks are a benefit to be welcomed and not shunned.
  • Really?
    "We want to avoid a situation where trucks are pulling up to the curb to sell food and competing with the folks making an investment in our community." That's funny. Where does he think these food trucks are coming from? China? The operators of food trucks are entrepreneurs from central Indiana (and, shocking I know, some from Hamilton County). But by all means, let's do all we can to kill local business to favor those who can afford the low-margin, high-risk business of land-based restaurants.
  • Little to no thinking involved
    Did Jim and Matt ever take economics 101? Don't they realize protectionism is a bad thing? Its a question of whether you want tourists to pay for $10 hot dogs or have a choice between $5 hot dogs, $6 tacos, $4 pizza slices, etc.
  • 800 Acres?
    Wow. This park is getting larger and larger each time there's news on it! Grand Park's website says 400 acres. Oh, I'm against this. Just charge a little more for food truck permits to operate during the busy season. The city is saying "Come to us for our Farmer's Market or Westfield Rocks the 4th, but not Grand Park". Nice.
    • 400 acres
      Thanks for pointing out my error, Waldo. Haste makes waste, as they say. I've fixed the blog post.
    • Short sighted....
      Why not allow the food trucks to give people different options? Banning them from Grand Park makes no sense. As of now, there is no place to eat that would be really quick enough for players/families that have 60 mins or so between games. The place is supposed to have it's first event next month -- is Westfield really going to limit people there for events to whatever overpriced options the consession stands offer?
    • Try to find a better balance
      I think it is a knee jerk reaction to try to ban them or to out fee the food trucks. The hype and good will that can come with food trucks (well managed ones, of course you wouldn't want too many to make it chaotic) shouldn't be thrown out. Embrace it like Indianapolis is doing on Georgia street with events. Invite 4 or 5 of them, have a separate area, charge a (reasonable, comparable with other places) fee. This way people can have have choices. Food trucks (especially the higher end ones) aren't all that cheap either, so bring some in that have different foods that your concessions sell. And once there are restaurants there to sit down and eat I doubt they will have to worry about a food truck or 4 around. People want quick choices between games, as pointed out above, and they want longer taking sit down places for the evenings or when games are over. Give more choices, don't take away options.
    • Trucks can coexist w/ park
      Seems the attendance numbers are rising. From the Mayor's Youtube video to a feasibility study to recent news reports increased the attendance from 250,000-300,000 to 500,000 and now 1 million a year? How did that happen? In the council meeting, it was mentioned that the city's cut on park's concessions is 32% on gross sales. This is why they want to ban food trucks. I like Michael's idea. Give them a zone, charge a fee, only local trucks. But the city wants brick and mortar stores, to pay property taxes into the large(Grand) TIF district. Problem is, not a lot of soccer or baseball games during the cold winter months. Here's a way around the ordinance as it stands, at least for one day a week in the summer. Move the Farmer's Market over to Grand Park. It's a city sponsored event and therefore exempt.
    • I know what's best for you
      I don't think this is only about the property taxes in the TIF District. I think it's also about the Food & Beverage taxes the city can collect. So to Young Hoosier's point, yes the city would like to see $10 hot dogs because it generates more taxes than a $5 taco. When, as a city, you're buried in debt, you need to do all you can to increase revenues, even if it means sticking it to the citizens and visitors. And I doubt many restaurants, beyond fast food, will settle in the area due to the city having one of the top three total property tax rates in the county. To Andrea Davis, can you find some factual financials on this project and publish them? The city started off saying they would only use TIF dollars but they've since issued Bonds that were guaranteed with COIT revenues. They've also increased the water & sewer rates only to announce they were going to sell the utilities and have now published a list of road improvements, some in the Park area, that will require those funds. It would be nice if a journalist were to dig into this and let the people know the real costs so far, and the expected revenue.
    • Amazing
      "When, as a city, you're buried in debt, you need to do all you can to increase revenues" And this is why our politicians have no idea what they are doing. There's an easy way out of this: don't spend more money than you have. Its so simple really.
    • Clueless
      See Title...enough said
    • Compromise
      I love food trucks as they have a great variety of food choices, better quality ingredients and similiar pricing to the overpriced garbage most ballparks offer. Definitely charge a fee for them to park in a truck zone. My son will be playing here multiple times per week and good and quick food would be appreciated. We are trying to be a one place fits all park attracting both local and out of area fans and consumers, so bring in the variety and make the people happy!
    • Competition is what America is built on
      Sell the trucks a permit. Brick n mortar can compete like any other business for the clients. I am not a big food truck person but the option should be there. This is America isn't it?

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