Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Food-vending opposition a no-show

Ketchum restaurateurs absent at City Council discussion

Express Staff Writer

Last summer, Leroy’s Ice Cream was the only permitted food vendor at the Town Square. Photo by Mountain Express

Not a single Ketchum restaurateur showed Monday to battle the city's continued effort of allowing food vendors—and now possibly a print media vendor—in the Ketchum Town Square.

Restaurant owners have shown in force and unified opposition ever since the first city meeting in April to discuss the possibility of four vendor stands, including Leroy's Ice Cream already on site. The group has often overfilled City Council chambers and spilled into the hallway, arguing that more food establishments would further split an already small pie. And they all said they didn't want to be given first crack at operating food carts, claiming the cost of constructing and operating a cart isn't worth it.

Monday evening was the council's first reading of a proposed ordinance that would allow vending. The council also took its first look at the proposed list of vendor rules. But the council spoke to a nearly empty room.

The ordinance would allow vendors on the square but no other public spaces in town. The council—absent Councilman Baird Gourlay and Mayor Randy Hall—had no problems with the ordinance. However, the details of allowing vendors—rules and the system of picking applicants—are outlined in a separate resolution because changes can more easily be made in a resolution. And changes may be needed after the first season, as this is uncharted territory for the city.

It's no longer being proposed that vendors build their own carts. The Town Design Team of the Ketchum Community Development Corp., the nonprofit that raised funds for and built the square, has offered to design the carts, according to team leader Dale Bates. However, he said at Monday's meeting that the board has not discussed whether it would fundraise, build the carts or run the leasing of them.

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"That's open for discussion," he said.

Nevertheless, said Planning Manager Stefanie Leif, having the city oversee design and owning the carts would allow for quality control, and make the venture more appealing to vendors.

The resolution states that vendor stands would be rented from the city and would sell only food, beverages or printed materials. The possibility of printed media has never been made public before now, but Councilman Larry Helzel called it a "great" idea.

Vendors cannot sell alcohol or operate before dawn or after dusk, unless approved through a special-event permit. Vendors must have an off-site vendor permit, costing $500 for six months or $750 for a year, a Ketchum business license and a sales-tax permit. Vendors must pay their local-option taxes to the city monthly, the same as other businesses.

Preference will be given to vendors operating a majority of the year and day, as well as those already having a "bricks-and-mortar" business in the city that sells the same kinds of things, whether it's food or printed media.

However, a question still remains on how to pick three vendors from potentially a large group of applicants.

"Lottery is definitely the cleanest way," said Lisa Horowitz, director of Community and Economic Development.

But a "pure" lottery may result in two burger stands. And how long can a vendor lease a cart and keep his or her space? Should the turnover be automatic every year, two years or three?

"I'm really lost on this one," Helzel said.

Councilwoman Nina Jonas said the vending carts could serve as a business incubator for those just starting off. After developing a following, the business could then move on to opening a traditional restaurant in a building. But when should they be pushed out?

"We have an awful lot of work to do on the resolution but agree on the face of the ordinance," Helzel said.

Trevon Milliard:

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