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Ann Arbor revisiting idea of food trucks, pop-up vendors for downtown site

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ANN ARBOR, MI — After years of debating how to activate the downtown Library Lane parking lot, Ann Arbor officials are revisiting past ideas.

Food trucks and food carts, along with craft pop-ups and musical performances, are once again the focus.

City Council voted 10-0 last week to order City Administrator Milton Dohoney to investigate the costs, operational needs and feasibility of regular scheduling of the city parking lot next to the Center Library -city for such uses.

The Council asked Dohoney to report back by April 1 and consider the challenges and benefits of partnering with an outside or not-for-profit entity to manage programming if there are significant impediments to operation. from the city.

Ann Arbor City Council

Adam Zemke, chairman of the city’s Commons Council, addresses the Ann Arbor City Council on November 10, 2022, speaking in support of a resolution to explore the activation of the Library Lane parking lot downtown with food trucks and mobile vendors.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

Adam Zemke, chairman of the city’s Council of Commons advisory group, appeared before city council on Thursday night, Nov. 10, to argue the idea.

The Commons Council in July 2021 identified food trucks as the best way to start activating the city’s future downtown central park space, but the idea was put on hold due to concerns that the introduction of food trucks could hurt struggling downtown restaurants amid the pandemic.

Mobile commercial activation of spaces is not a new concept and has been around for more than a century, said Zemke, who cites the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market as an example.

Downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Library Lane parking lot site on August 11, 2022. In 2018, city voters decided it should be part of a future downtown core park and civic commons, but a parking lot remains.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

“Mobile activations, especially those around food and pop-up vendors, do not conflict with physical locations. In fact, they are complementary,” he said, citing a 12-year study .

They promote equity and entrepreneurship by providing low-cost entry points for people who want to start businesses, Zemke said, mentioning local restaurants spun off from the former food cart company Mark’s Carts at downtown over the past decade, including The Lunch Room, a vegan one. restaurant that morphed into Detroit Street Filling Station, North Star Lounge and The Lunch Room Bakery and Cafe.

The resolution to explore options for Ann Arbor Library Lane parking was sponsored by council members Erica Briggs, Lisa Disch, Julie Grand and Jeff Hayner.

He cites a 2018 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report stating that food trucks offer a net positive to the restaurant industry and can be a driver of economic growth and foster the development of minority-owned businesses. .

Shimmy Cabin

The Shimmy Shack vegan food truck parked on Liberty Street near Liberty Plaza in downtown Ann Arbor during a Sonic Lunch concert on July 14, 2022.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

Council member Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, noted that the downtown restaurant he owns, Jerusalem Garden, is a short walk from the Library Lane car park and is not threatened by the prospect of food trucks.

“I welcome them,” he said. “I think it’s a synergy. If you’re concerned about a food truck, you probably have a lot of other issues to worry about first.

Downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Library Lane parking lot site on August 11, 2022. In 2018, city voters decided it should be part of a future downtown core park and civic commons, but a parking lot remains.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

The problems facing the restaurant industry now are labor shortages and high inflation, Ramlawi said, indicating he is doing 30-40% less business than he would if the labor market was where it was.

“It’s the toughest business to run – the toughest business,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”

He encouraged a holistic approach to activating the site, pairing food trucks with events to draw people in.

“If we just put a few food trucks out there, they won’t be successful,” he said.

Downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Library Lane parking lot site on August 11, 2022. In 2018, city voters decided it should be part of a future downtown core park and civic commons, but a parking lot remains.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

Ann Arbor voters approved the downtown central park concept in 2018, but the city has yet to implement it, spending the past four years discussing near-term activation options while considering the possibility of longer-term physical changes in the city. -spaces belonging to the block, including the Library Lane and Liberty Plaza lot.

The feasibility study authorized by the city council is an important and necessary next step for activation, Zemke said.

“Activation planning is important,” he said, noting that members of his advisory group traveled to Detroit to meet with the Downtown Detroit Partnership and tour the city parks managed and activated through the partnership. public-private.

Detroit’s partnership meets the needs of all users to ensure everyone is safe, fairness is paramount and no one feels evicted, Zemke said.

“We’ve learned that people love DDP’s work to guide planned activation throughout the year and activate occasional-use organic space to do so,” said Zemke, who cited other examples of Royal Oak, Plymouth, Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

Downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Library Lane parking lot site on August 11, 2022. In 2018, city voters decided it should be part of a future downtown core park and civic commons, but a parking lot remains.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

Ann Arbor’s downtown business community is still recovering from COVID-19, but the city can begin to explore the subject, said Briggs, D-5th Ward, noting that the idea being floated is something that is happening in city centers across the country.

“Hopefully we can explore that and see where it leads,” she said. “I’m sure there will be challenges ahead.”

Hayner, D-1st Ward, said he doesn’t think there will be much poaching of restaurant patrons by food trucks.

“It’s for the best that we have more things happening in our community, and that’s one way to make it happen,” he said.

Downtown Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor’s Library Lane parking lot site on August 11, 2022. In 2018, city voters decided it should be part of a future downtown core park and civic commons, but a parking lot remains.ryan stanton | Ann Arbor News

He mentioned trying a Ginger Deli sandwich when the downtown restaurant set up a booth along Liberty Street during a summer Sonic Lunch concert.

“And if I had never tried one from their food table, I would never have known how awesome they were and started going there,” he said. “And so I think local restaurants have the opportunity to participate in that as well.”

Grand, D-3rd Ward, said the introduction of pop-up vendors is temporary and easily reversible if there is better use of the site in the future. But right now it’s surface parking “and we need to be able to do better than that,” she said.

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