Food Trucks and Their Impact on Downtown Revitalization

March 23, 2012 21 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

With one full week to go before the first Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship, Metro Jacksonville explores the food truck craze, and how downtown could benefit from embracing the industry's popularity.

About The Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship

Metro Jacksonville's first Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship was created in an effort to promote small business growth and to encourage the City of Jacksonville to embrace the popular, rapidly growing food truck industry.  Scheduled for Saturday, March 31 and capped at a maximum of 300 to ensure short lines, tickets went on sale March 2.  As expected, due to a pent up demand by local foodies, this event quickly sold out in less than four days.

Quote presents:

Jax Truckies The Jacksonville Food Truck Championships

Come sample the best of Jacksonville's street food culture and vote on the Jax Truckies People's Choice Champion, Saturday, March 31 @ Bold City Brewery. Food trucks will be selling select menu samples so attendees can experience the food truck craze sweeping the nation. You don’t need to travel to Austin, Texas or Portland, Oregon. The food truck revolution is going on right here in Jacksonville, FL. Local food is better food!

$15 admission VIP Hour from 11AM to 12PM benefiting Second Harvest North Florida. In addition to benefitting Second Harvest, VIP Hour gets you access a full hour before the general attendees arrive. This allows our VIP guests to get food faster and fresher for a great cause!

$5 admission from 12PM to 3PM.

In addition to local foods, Jacksonville’s own Bold City Brewery will be selling local brews and other select beverages.

The Jax Truckies will crown the best food truck in Jacksonville. Guest judges include Caron Streibich from Folio Weekly’s Bite Club, Kerry Speckman of Jacksonville Magazine and Cole Pepper from the Jacksonville Backyard BBQ Championships. In addition to this professionally judged event, participants will have the opportunity to select a people’s choice award.

Admission is limited to the first 300 (50 for VIP hour) so act now to secure your spot.

This is a ticketed event. Food tickets purchased separately from admission price. Food tickets can be purchased the day of the event for $1 each or 20 tickets for $18.

If you can’t make the VIP Happy Hour benefitting Second Harvest North Florida, we will be accepting canned food donations that will be delivered directly to Second Harvest. The mission of Second Harvest North Florida is to distribute food and grocery products to hungry people and to educate the public about the causes and possible solutions to problems of domestic hunger.

Bold City Brewery is located at:
2670 Rosselle St # 7, Jacksonville, FL 32204

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Current Contenders Line Up

Brucci's Pizza....Pizza, Pasta and Panini

Mike B's

Monroe's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q & Catering

Mother Fletcher's

On the Fly Sandwiches & Stuff

The Full Rack BBQ

Due to the event quickly selling out, we've created a possibility for those who were left out to participate:


Why Food Trucks and Downtown Revitalization Are A Perfect Match

Several cities, such as Portland, Phoenix, and Tampa, have taken advantage of the popular industry to generate additional foot traffic and exposure for their downtown businesses in underutilized locations (ex. surface parking lots and public squares like Hemming Plaza).  This affordable method of programming within an urban setting is also known as "Tactical Urbanism."  Food Truck Rallies, events where several trucks locate within a clustered, compact, pedestrian-scale setting (something a downtown environment naturally provides) provide several benefits for their participants:

1. Economic vitality. The experience in other cities shows that food vendors attract foot traffic to commercial districts - which means increased sales and a more vibrant retail business overall. By offering low-cost, culturally diverse foods for people on the go, they typically complement - rather than compete - with sit-down restaurants and give people more reasons to frequent local shopping districts.

2. Festive, pedestrian-friendly streets.  Food vendors bring positive activity to the street and add a festive, people-oriented feel that improves public safety. In many cities, food vendors provide a window into many diverse cultures, introducing people to new foods and to the pleasures of spending time in the public space of the city.

3. An entry point to owning your own business. Food vending can be an ideal first business.  For a modest investment, it helps an entrepreneur develop a track record and build loyal clientele.  For many immigrant and refugee communities, food vending offers a point of entry to the economy and a way to learn the food service industry.

Mayor Takes Leading Role in Downtown Tampa Experience

In November 2011, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn brought the food truck craze to downtown Tampa with an event known as Mayor Buckhorn's Food Truck Fiesta.  The idea for a regular food truck rally in downtown Tampa came about after Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn attended a food truck rally in early 2011.  In a November 2011, Tampa Tribune article, Mayor Buckhorn was quoted as saying:

"I saw the excitement, and I saw the crowds that turned out," he said. "People were waiting in line an hour and a half for food. I want to bring it downtown. It's a great day for Tampa and for foodies.  This is part of being hip. It's part of what makes a downtown cool. It's obviously bringing a lot of young people here. A lot of people from downtown buildings are excited about it. I'm excited about it."

The popular monthly event is held in Lykes Gaslight Square Park, which is located in the heart of downtown Tampa.  Like Jacksonville's Hemming Plaza, this public space occupies a full city block in the heart of downtown and has been a popular location for urban outdoorsmen (the homeless).  In addition, leading up the first rally, brick-and-mortar restaurants voiced concerns that food trucks would lure away customers.

However, the opposite ended up happening.  So many people are attracted to the rallies, a common national characteristic whenever food trucks assemble in public places, that many adjacent restaurants ended up at capacity levels due to the rally's overflow of customers.  Tampa's Mayor views events like this as a benefit for all downtown businesses, including the restaurants, because they are exposed to new customers.  This concept of "clustering complementing uses within a compact pedestrian scale setting" is something that has long been promoted by Metro Jacksonville, in affordably addressing the revitalization of our downtown.

Why Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship Won't Be In Hemming Plaza

Many have asked why the upcoming Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship event will not be hosted in a location like Hemming Plaza.

"I contacted JEDC several times about making sure an event in Hemming Plaza would conform to the rules regarding mobile vendors downtown.  Most of my attempts at contacting the appropriate parties at JEDC were ignored.  In the meantime, I contacted the Office of Special Events, who were very helpful about walking me through the process of obtaining a special events permit to conduct the event downtown.  The fee and process were all reasonable.  However, when the issue of proper insurance requirements was brought to my attention it was clear this would be financially unfeasible to conduct this myself.  This is a volunteer effort for me to provide a demonstration event to show city leaders how viable food trucks can be for downtown.  I could not find a willing partner through various downtown organizations who would host the event and thereby be covered under their existing insurance policy.  It was at that time that I decided to look elsewhere and found two very accommodating people in Stanton Hudmon at Pine Street LLC and Susan Miller at Bold City Brewery.  These are two local entrepreneurs who clearly ‘get it’ in terms of improving their community.  JEDC later did get back with me with a response to my inquiries after several weeks of being ignored, but the person I dealt with was largely unhelpful and unwelcoming.  I got the distinct impression that the City was not interested in dealing with me.
This is consistent with the stories I have heard from the brave individuals who have defied odds by attempting to open food trucks here in Jacksonville.  The City has largely taken a punitive approach against them, instead of working with them to ensure their success.  They, like myself, cannot understand why the City would not welcome innovative ways to grow a small business in a community that has long felt the effects of a sagging economy."
- Quote by Mike Field, Jax Truckies Food Truck Championship organizer

Unfortunately, we currently live in an environment where small business development, creativity, and innovation is forced to move forward in spite of local government.  Despite the billions spent in the name of redevelopment in downtown, this is why downtown continues to struggle after 40 years of city-backed revitalization strategies, while areas such as King Street flourish with small business growth despite little to no city involvement.

So on Saturday, March 31, 2012, hundreds of people will enjoy the dishes of some of Jacksonville's best food trucks in a single location, while a natural, underutilized public space like Hemming Plaza will continue to sit empty.

Article by Ennis Davis.

Mayor Buckhorn's Food Truck Fiesta images courtesy of Cafe Getaway's blog.  Cafe Getaway is a Tampa-based mobile espresso truck.