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Locals encourage mobile vending

BY KAITLIN DEWULF | APRIL 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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From traditional hot dogs to freshly prepared burritos, mobile vending is a popular trend that lacks the space in downtown Iowa City to match its growth.

Community members were given the opportunity to express their concerns about mobile vending Monday night at a forum that followed the screening of the film Food Truck Wars.

The event was held by the Mobile Vending Association of Iowa City in order to address the worries of local business owners and the Iowa City City Council. Some of these issues include the competition, congestion, safety, and space availability associated with mobile vending.

In addition, the association sought to promote and expand local vending in a way that will enhance downtown without compromising it.

“We want to show people that mobile vending is an incredible asset to the community,” Local Burrito founder Kyle Sieck said.

The film uncovers a story of how food trucks improved a California town’s economic and community vitality as a whole. The association chose this film to show people the positive effect mobile vending can have on Iowa City.

Sieck said this type of vending encourages more shopping in businesses, supports entrepreneurs, assists local food production, and generates revenue for Iowa City in taxes and permits.

The biggest obstacle local mobile vendors face is limited access to public property for vending downtown. The current ordinance only allows six food carts on the Pedestrian Mall, and these permits are reviewed only once every three years — meaning any other mobile vendors who want to sell their food in the area are out of luck.

Rockne Cole, a member of the Mobile Vending Association of Iowa City, said there are some out-of-date ideas about mobile vending’s potential.

Cole said the industry as a whole has taken off in the last five to 10 years as a way to promote all types of ethnic and organic food and to bring food diversity to the culinary scene.

“If mobile vending is done right, it can promote a culture of entrepreneurship and ethnic foods,” he said. “These are essential to the downtown environment.”

According to the National Restaurant Association, there is an increasing demand, particularly among people ages 18 to 44, for freshly prepared, restaurant-quality food that can be obtained quickly at a low cost. The report also states that consumer interest in visiting a food truck has “increased significantly.”

Sieck said a key element to good vending locations is foot traffic, which is why the Pedestrian Mall is a prime spot for mobile vendors. He said he wants to expand mobile vending through additional permits to the Pedestrian Mall, city streets, and city-owned parking lots.

“Mobile vending supports a dynamic street life,” Sieck said. “It brings food to places and times of the day where food isn't available.”

City officials recently denied local food vendor Anthony Browne’s permit application. Browne, the owner of Hillery’s Barbecue, said he hopes residents will gain an understanding of mobile vending and how it benefits modern communities.

“Mobile vending creates a modern and vibrant ambiance,” Browne said. “It adds an entertainment character to otherwise bland streetscapes.”


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