More flexibility could be on the way for food trucks who want to operate in Akron. They're currently not allowed on city streets, but Councilman Jeff Fusco says it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when."
"It's going to happen," said Fusco. "In what form and how we go about it is the question."
Fusco chairs a special committee that took up the issue last summer. He's aiming for passage of an ordinance by the end of March. That ordinance is only in the planning stages at this point, so Fusco couldn't offer specifics.
"And we're hoping to develop an ordinance that fits Akron," said Fusco. "A lot of these cities are very different from Akron."
AkronNewsNow decided to check with a few other cities in Ohio. It's a cursory glance and not intended to encompass all rules in all cities; however, our brief analysis indicates that Akron would hardly be breaking new ground by allowing food trucks on park along some downtown or other streets. Fusco emphasizes that safety issues are paramount, although everyone involved has been trying to figure out how to strike a balance between food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants. That's something Downtown Akron Partnership President Suzie Graham is watching closely. Graham says she has mistakenly been painted as someone who is against food trucks, but sees herself as "careful."
"It's important to be sensitive, but also maintaining the balance," said Graham. "There is this tricky line of balance."
Cincinnati: It appears to be a non-issue, according to Jon Diebold, the immediate past president of Greater Cincinnati Independent Restaurants.
"I really didn't feel that they were going to impact my business at all and as it turns out they didn't," said Jon Diebold a restaurant/bar owner in downtown Cincinnati and immediate past president of the Greater Cincinnati Independent Restaurants group. "We've had them for about to years or so and I've seen no impact either way."
Diebold says food trucks, for example, can't offer a cold beer in an air conditioned building on a hot summer day. They also are less likely to attract people when it's rainy or when it's cold or when people want something other than what the available food trucks have to offer. Diebold also says food trucks are catering to the late night crowd that a lot of traditional restaurants are not.
Toledo: Graham's closest counterpart in Northwest Ohio is Bill Thomas with the Downtown Toledo Development Corporation. He says there's room for everyone in his city.
"A number of cities have a lot of food trucks and they've been able to figure out how to be able to get them out there and create the energy that they create, but not hurt the existing business," said Thomas.
According to Thomas, the food trucks are helping fixed location restaurants.
"And then they start to go around to some of the other restaurants," said Thomas. "It starts to change behavior and when you change behavior, you've got the opportunity to maybe pick up new business."
Thomas says luring people out of their offices also promotes exercise.
Thomas does admit that downtown restaurants in close proximity to food trucks report that their "to-go" business takes a hit on the days that the food trucks are present.
Columbus: The city of Columbus banned food trucks, too - until about a year ago when a pilot program was approved. It allows trucks to operate on certain streets on certain days. Zach James with the Central Ohio Food Truck Association says the mobile restaurants are not a fad. He says they've been working with restaurant owners to find ways to satisfy everyone involved.
Some news reports suggest that, despite calls from people like James, food truck operators took little advantage of it. Some of the designated spaces often sat empty.
Dayton: The city of Dayton also allows food trucks. In fact, they're practically bragging about it. From the economic development page on the city's website:
"The mobile food truck phenomenon is sweeping the nation! Bringing culinary diversity, mobile food trucks cultivate urban engagement and drive development. Always on the cutting edge, the City of Dayton moved swiftly to revise antiquated codes and regulations to encourage growth in this burgeoning economic movement. Whether you are starting your food truck business or need assistance with your existing venture, the City of Dayton's Economic Development professionals are here for your business needs."
Previous Coverage: Restaurant Association Supports Food Trucks
First Night set a top mark with last night's ringing in of 2014. Organizers of the annual family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration say preliminary numbers peg attendance at "approximately" 14,000 people. Final numbers are expected later in the week. Attendance is tracked based on button sales for admittance to the artists, musicians, performance artists and fireworks programs.
Despite the cold felt by those viewing First Night's two fireworks shows, the majority of events were held at indoor venues through Akron. For the first time, the Akron Art Museum opened all of it's galleries.
- - -
(First Night Akron) The 18th annual First Night® Akron brought approximately 14,000 people to Downtown Akron to enjoy New Year's Eve in a safe, clean and family-friendly environment. Initial attendance figures are estimated based on the clicker totals of the venues. Complete attendance figures will be available Jan. 3 after collection of sales information is complete.
The nationwide trend of young professionals moving into downtown areas has certainly happened in downtown Akron.
Student housing has been very successful in downtown Akron - with such new projects as the "22 Exchange" complex catering to college students.
But Suzie Graham, president of the Downtown Akron Partnership, says a recent city moratorium could actually help broaden the base of downtown residents.
"We should see no additional student housing going up after what we have in place now," Graham tells AkronNewsNow.com, "and look forward to more mixed use, family and young professional developments in the future."
Graham says even some of the new developments catering to students, like the under construction "401 Lofts" on South Main Street, will accept those not going to the University of Akron or Kent State University.
She says downtown housing growth can spur other development downtown, such as retail and entertainment projects.
Downtown Akron Partnership has launched a website encouraging residents to submit project ideas that will enhance the downtown area.
Director of business relations Kimberly Beckett says the project ideas have to stay within a budget of $300 to $500.
"Really, the sky's the limit for ideas. We're really looking to tap into the creativity of the community and kind of get them to take ownership of the downtown area which belongs to them," said Beckett.
Residents have until May 17 to submit their ideas online at MyAkron.net. The public will vote for one of the projects at a final pitch meeting on June 25th.
A final pitch of the project ideas will be presented in June where the public can attend and donate to the winning project.
Beckett says it's an opporutinity for residents to buy into the program.
"It's beoming a trend in cities around the country and it's really just a way to get people to feel like they're an important part of the community, which they are," said Beckett.
Downtown Akron is ready for summer visitors, thanks to about 400 volunteers, business owners and city workers who spent the day conducting a general spring cleaning.
You might have noticed the people wearing bright yellow or orange shirts, many of them in need of a good hand-washing after mulching, digging, scrubbing, painting, picking up trash and anything else that looked like it needed attention. Green and Clean is an annual project coordinated by Downtown Akron Partnership and one that's gaining momentum, according to DAP's Communication Director Sharon Gillberg, who says this year's force nearly doubled the number of people who helped in 2012. Gillberg says the key, however, is to keep everything looking nice as long as possible.
"We don't want it to just be a one-day thing," said Gillberg. "If you see something laying the ground, pick it up and keep this going all year long."
Listen to more from Gillberg and see pictures of the volunteers in action:
Of course, not tossing your trash is the first step.
Gillberg says downtown business owners have really embraced the idea, but she thinks a clean downtown is one that is much more likely to attract repeat visitors.
Green and Clean also includes Green Fair, featuring businesses that offer environmentally-friendly products and services.
It's going to get easier to keep downtown Akron clean.
Mayor Don Plusquellic announced today the addition of about 200 recycling containers, thanks to a grant from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources.
Plusquellic says a state grant is paying for 154 thirty-gallon recycling containers shaped like pop bottles. There will be 50-gallon, dome-shaped containers and 20 more containers that are 300 gallons each.
"Right now, DAP (Downtown Akron Partnership) is using square cardboard recycling dumpsters that you still see, but we think the upgraded dumpsters will remind people and certainly be more attractive in downtown," said Plusquellic
Plusquellic says the program with Downtown Akron Partnership should meet demands by store owners.
Press release from Downtown Akron Partnership:
Domestic violence creates a violent and hostile environment which can have devastating physical and emotional effects on children. Approximately 500 children are served through Battered Women's Shelter (BWS) protective shelter services each year. BWS is focused on helping kids heal by providing them with age appropriate crisis intervention services and connecting them to appropriate clinical services.
Downtown Akron Partnership recognized the valuable and life changing services provided by the Battered Women's Shelter and chose the organization to receive a large quantity of gently used Step2 toys that were a part of the First Night Akron 2012event in Downtown Akron.
The toys, generously donated to First Night Akron 2012 by Step 2, include playhouses, workbenches, forts, wagons, kitchen sets and more. They were gently used for 6 hours during First Night as part of the child-focused PNC's Grow Up Greatvenue at The Shoppes at Akron Centre.Two Men and a Truck is graciously transporting the toys from the Shoppes at Akron Centre to BWS at 321 W. Exchange St. this Friday. Representatives from the Battered Women's Shelter and Downtown Akron Partnership will be available for interviews.
"The donation we received from Step2 was incredibly generous. We were thrilled to have them at First Night, but recognized the need to make sure that the donation was put to use in a more lasting way. The Battered Women's Shelter was a perfect fit for the toys," stated Rich Hoselton, Director of Events for Downtown Akron Partnership.
Often times, when a family flees domestic violence and seeks refuge in protective shelter, they only come with the clothes on their back and a few personal items. Some children do not have time to bring comforts from home and play items. This donation will allow kids in shelter to have access to a variety of non-violent and healthy toys. "First Night is about renewal, celebration, and the start of the future, stated Suzie Graham, President of Downtown Akron Partnership. "These wonderful toys allowed our First Night families an opportunity to imagine and role play the world that they want to grow into. How fitting that they can now provide that same opportunity to families courageously making a fresh start and building a new future."
Thousands of people are expected to attend Akron's biggest New Years Eve party - First Night Akron.
Weather is always a factor in attendance, but Lisa Knapp with Downtown Akron Partnership says there could be more people than normal simply because it falls on a Saturday and a lot of people won't go back to work until Tuesday.
If people don't have to work that day, hopefully, we'll get even more people out than usual because maybe they're more willing to bundle the kids up if they've been at home all day and just relaxing," said Knapp.
Knapp says there are 10 venues that feature more than 80 events, mainly music, dance and other theatrical performances. There are also hands-on activities and plenty of food.
There are also two fireworks shows (9:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.).
"I think it makes things a little more accessible for people and offers a little bit of variety," said Knapp, who adds that it gives some people a chance to enjoy fireworks and still be home by midnight.
This year's New Year's Eve celebration will also include a mass wedding/renewal of vows featuring 35 couples.
All First Night Akron events are held in downtown Akron. A $10 admission button is needed for entrance to most of them. Parking is free along with shuttle service to the various venues.