During their April 21 meeting, members of East Lansing Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission discussed the possibility of permitting food truck vendors in designated city parks. If the plan comes to fruition, the City could create a system of collecting revenue from vendors, informing the public of schedule times and locations, and providing safety standards and other information to vendors, similar to the City of Grand Rapids’ food truck permit portal.
Commissioners Sarah Reckhow and Sarah Hoover presented prepared notes that included ideas on bringing food trucks to local parks this spring and summer.
Reckhow explained why now is a good time to explore these ideas, referring to the pandemic, “which is impacting activities and what folks feel comfortable doing. A lot of folks don’t necessarily want to go eat in an indoor restaurant for example…Yet, we have our parks and we have a lot of really wonderful recreational space in the community, and I think this is one way to expand some of what we’re able to offer.”
“Added to that is the fact that the aquatic center isn’t going to be open this summer, and that’s a space that a lot of families look towards for summer recreation,” Reckhow said. “I think it would be nice to offer some type of expansion of the sort of community type of gathering and recreational opportunity in the park spaces that are available in the community.”
“And then a third item is just sort of what’s been going on downtown and some of the sort of festival reshuffling and the fact that we still have a lot of ongoing development in our downtown,” she said.
Reckhow and Hoover researched logistics behind the proposal, looking at other communities offering similar food trucks and safe outdoor activities within their parks. Hoover brought up the weekly food truck events in Corunna, Michigan, which have been successful and include live music. Locally, her own Hawk Nest neighborhood has also seen food trucks in the subdivision – three trucks within the last month – and some even in the winter.
“When they show up, they have a line, and people are spaced out, and people are with their children and their dogs. Older people that walk down there just for the exercise, and it is building a unique sense of community in a time that is very unique as well. It’s been pretty well-received in my neighborhood, so I can only imagine how well received it would be in a park.”
Commissioner Adam DeLay suggested Valley Court Park as a possible location. “You’ve already got the Farmer’s Market space there that has a stage. I could see you swapping out the pop-up tents that we see there in the summer to also occasionally have it to where you’ve got food trucks there,” he said.
DeLay also supported the idea of using Patriarche Park, stating, “The infrastructure is there…I’m thinking long-term beyond Covid. I think food trucks are very popular. I love them. I think it’s something you could create a whole program off of, and generate revenue at the same time.”
DeLay did bring up the importance of following Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) guidelines regarding limits on gathering size for outdoor events, which is currently 300 people. Parks, Recreation & Arts Director Tim McCaffrey mentioned that current legislation may allow for things like food trucks.
Though the food trucks could provide a sense of community and safe outdoor dining and gathering, McCaffrey is aware that in previous years, brick-and-mortar restaurants haven’t been too keen on the idea that other businesses can simply set up shop and then leave. However, the “Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime. Place Project” has many elements in place to encourage downtown dining, and patronage of local brick-and-mortars.
“With respect to outdoor dining in the downtown, the Planning Department and the Downtown Management Board are working on what they’re calling the ‘Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime. Place Project’ and that’s going to include a number of little picnic tables and such at various strategic locations throughout the downtown,” McCaffrey said.
Last week, the City announced that it would cancel the remaining Downtown Underground Market events – held in the parking garage below the Downtown Marriott – due to rising Covid cases and hospitalizations in our area. But, in the same press release, the City informed residents that the newly installed seating to which McCaffrey referred is still open to the public. You can read the City’s press release here.
He also detailed possible plans, although not approved yet, which could close an Eastbound lane of traffic on Albert Ave., to allow for a pedestrian area with more outdoor sidewalk dining. (That project has been controversial; read more here.)
Parks, Recreation & Arts Assistant Director Wendy Wilmers-Longre spoke about other summertime outdoor events that could happen in conjunction with the mobile food trucks. The East Lansing Library’s mobile ‘Library to Go’ van plans to visit parks and other outdoor locations this summer, offering patrons the chance to check out materials.
“I think there’s some real opportunity to sort of pull these things together so that we’re not duplicating resources and that we’re capitalizing on each other’s strengths and what we have to offer,” Wilmers-Longre said.
Director McCaffrey closed the remarks on the food trucks, stating, “We can continue to do work on this topic and provide another opportunity for conversation at the next meeting also.”