by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona might reconsider its restrictions on food trucks this year. The city currently requires that all food trucks — with few exceptions — must be operated by a company with a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the city. In past years, the City Council has disagreed on how widely to allow food trucks, but in interviews this week, some council members said they want to discuss the issue again.
City code regulates where and when food trucks can operate — Third Street downtown, Lake Park, Prairie Island, or Levee Park; not within 150-feet of a restaurant; and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. — and requires them to hold $1-million-plus insurance coverage, but the brick-and-mortar rule is one of the more onerous restrictions. “That’s the big one,” City Council member Michelle Alexander said. Alexander is a proponent of liberalizing food truck rules, saying that food trucks will draw more people downtown and benefit restaurants, as well as other businesses. Business variety helps everyone, she said. During past debates, council members fielded calls from restauranteurs concerned that food trucks would hurt their city-property-tax-paying businesses, and former City Council member Gerry Krage opposed loosening food truck rules for that reason.
City code does allow food trucks as part of special events, and food trucks have been allowed during many of the city’s own events, such as holiday markets or Live at the Levee concerts.
The issue of food trucks came up this week after Winona Park and Recreation Director Chad Ubl said he received multiple requests from people interested in bringing food trucks to Levee Park on a regular basis. That is not normally allowed unless the food truck is attached to a brick-and-mortar restaurant or is part of a city-authorized special event. The question Ubl said he received was, “If I just decide every Tuesday I want to serve lunch down there, is that a special event?” He added, “We don’t really have an answer on that yet.”
Ubl brought the issue up in passing at a City Council meeting on Monday. He said he doesn’t currently have a recommendation for what the City Council should do, but wants to discuss the issue with the council further in the near future. Mayor Mark Peterson raised the possibility that future conversation could entail reconsidering the brick-and-mortar rule. “That was the biggest sticking point last time,” Peterson explained in an interview, referring to the council’s discussions of food truck rules last spring.
Last spring, a majority of council members said they favored allowing more food trucks and voted to expand the areas where food trucks may operate, but Alexander and City Council member George Borzyskowski were the only ones to vote for eliminating the brick-and-mortar rule. “I feel like maybe some of the council people didn’t understand,” Alexander said, explaining that some of her colleagues may have been confused about the multifarious rule changes they were voting on at the time. “Maybe they’ll realize that what we did was so restrictive that now there are no food trucks downtown,” Alexander said. There is one company that holds a license to operate a food truck downtown: Rubio’s Family Mexican Restaurant.
“Because downtown is evolving here, I think food trucks can play a role in making downtown more vibrant and attractive,” Peterson said in an interview. “I’m not sure how I feel about the brick and mortar. I understand that component.” He added, “I’m all in favor of bringing [this issue] back and talking.”
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