Food truck rallies kicked out of downtown

In a letter dated Nov. 26, the city declined to renew its temporary lease of city-owned property at 200 S. Jefferson St. to Synergy for the organization’s rallies and kitchen.

“The current temporary agreement ends in just a few days. The city understands that Synergy will need a period of time to gather materials to vacate the premises. Synergy will have until the close of business on December 31, 2013 to vacate the property,” a letter to Synergy co-founder Tonia Fish from Dayton Recreation and Youth Services Director Joe Parlette says. “Synergy does not have the authority to hold events during this timeframe.”

Lisa Grigsby, a Synergy board member, said the organization is looking for a new home and that new location will likely be in the suburbs.

“We really wanted to do it in the city of Dayton, but they strung us along and strung us along,” she said. “(There’s been) no answer, no explanation. “You are just not getting a lease.”

City spokesman Tom Biedenharn said Wednesday that opposition from competing businesses was one factor, but not the only one. The city does not have another user already lined up for the site.

“The city administration believed the financial plan Synergy submitted was not sufficient to sustain long-term operations at the site,” Biedenharn said. “That, coupled with opposition we heard from other surrounding businesses about the impact of Synergy’s proposal, led us to decline an extension of the current lease. We will continue to aggressively market the site for future development.”

Parlette’s letter said the value of the work that Synergy and its volunteers put into the property exceeds the amount currently owed for rent and utilities, so the city will not pursue those funds.

Built as a nonprofit aimed at offering certified commercial kitchen support services and programs, Synergy has held five parking lot food truck rallies since first leasing the former site of Sa-Bai Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar in July. Grisby said they have drawn a total of 12,000 people.

Fish said there is a need for the services Synergy provides.

“We can’t waste time getting upset,” Fish said. “We’ve got to work our community connections and find a new space as quickly as we can. People are depending on us.”

Michael Martin, president of the Oregon District Business Association, said there have been several conversations between the city, the Downtown Dayton Partnership and business owners about the food truck rallies’ impact on businesses.

Grisby and Fish contend that rallies create a sense of excitement that draw people to the Oregon District, where rally participants patronize district businesses. Martin says that has not been the case.

“A lot of people come specifically for that (the food truck rallies) and then they go home,” he said. “While no one has an issue with Synergy’s kitchens, the rallies take customers from businesses that pay property taxes and make (permanent) investments.”

Those businesses also pay a special district fee used to support the Downtown Dayton Partnership. Food trucks are essentially getting the benefits of being in the district free of charge, Martin said.

Martin said it is also a matter of fairness. Synergy’s lease was for $800 a month, he said, below market value.

“You and I are underwriting them to be in there,” he said.

Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said there were strong, opposing opinions about the impact of food trucks on existing businesses.

“We were asked (by the city) to gather information on what the existing businesses’ thoughts were on the food trucks,” Gudorf said. “We had a significant number of businesses and property owners who said we love the notion of the incubator, but that the food trucks were just too close (to their site).”

Gudorf said location is a key issue. Both existing restaurants and food trucks want to be near highly populated areas.

“The city has specific locations where food trucks are allowed,” she said. “If you look at other cities, you tend to find locations that aren’t right next to your entertainment district or a cluster of restaurants.”

Current city regulations on food truck sales follow two tracks. Food truck sales can happen on private property, as long as city zoning and building regulations are followed.

But for sales on downtown streets, there are two designated areas — East Second Street between Jefferson and St. Clair, and West Third Street near Sinclair and the county administration building.

Synergy provided the city with a petition of support with the signatures of 28 downtown business owners or employees as well as several letters of support.

Emily Mendenhall and her father, Bob, of Lily’s Bistro and Blind Bob’s bar and grill in the Oregon District, signed letters. Emily Mendenhall said she likes that Synergy provided education and kitchen space that supports entrepreneurs’ small business.

She said she personally likes to eat at food trucks, but does not know enough about the impact they truly have on brick and mortar eateries.

“I think on some nights it did (take customers away), but on some it brought us customers,” she said.

Jesy Anderson, co-owner of Sew Dayton, a sewing store, said she supports food trucks and the vibrancy they bring.

“They bring a whole different clientele downtown,” she said. “I wish more people would stand up for the food trucks and what they do. They don’t take away from any of the other businesses downtown. It is grab and go food. It is not sit down and eat.”

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