New efforts to create a more welcoming and vibrant downtown environment involve proposed changes to the city ordinance for street vendors selling items from carts and trucks.
If approved, downtown workers and shoppers might be able to purchase a bouquet of flowers, an ice cream cone or a hot dog during a lunch break or weekend stroll.
Input is being collected on recommendations compiled by the Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department before being placed on the agenda of the Columbus City Council, which would give final approval.
“It’s another way to make downtown even more vibrant and active and interesting,” said Mayor Kristen Brown, who said the idea was discussed as part of meetings on the Columbus Arts District. She also was approached by potential street vendors wanting to sell items downtown.
Downtown merchants and restaurant owners will meet with city officials during the next two weeks to share their thoughts before a city ordinance is crafted.
Brown said the matter then will be placed as a discussion item on the City Council agenda, either Feb. 19 or March 5.
City officials believe changes could provide a new element downtown to further enhance the area.
That includes a newly revamped Fourth Street area, with larger sidewalks and plaza space for outdoor events, which was the result of a $1.7 million renovation last summer and fall. Nearby is a rebuilt Commons on Washington Street, site of many community events.
“Before, it seemed (street vendors) were viewed more as a nuisance,” said Jeff Bergman, director of the city-county planning department.
“But with changes in downtown, we think it can be a positive thing.”
Street vendors would have to follow a specific set of rules, including what type of vehicle or cart could be used, how long they could be out on the street or sidewalk, exactly where they could set up and what type of permit and fee would be required.
A current city ordinance allows for some street vendors, but its strict guidelines limit the number of vendors willing to meet the criteria, said Rae-Leigh Stark, a senior planner with the planning department.
Some of the restrictions in the current ordinance include not allowing any sales for longer than one hour and not within 500 feet of a public school, park or playground.
That would prohibit street vendors in front of The Commons because of the playground inside the building.
To help formulate a proposal for a new city ordinance, Columbus planners contacted officials in Bloomington, Indianapolis, Louisville, Ky., and Portland, Ore., to learn their guidelines for street vendors.
Planners have created an initial set of recommendations that suggest street vendors sell only fresh or frozen food, and flowers.
They would be allowed to have sidewalk carts only on streets where 9-foot sidewalks are present and vehicles only where parallel parking is available.
Planners have begun meeting with downtown merchants and talking to potential street vendors individually.
“Now is the best time to discuss the parameters and express concerns,” said Bergman.
Travis Mouser of Columbus, who operates street carts selling hot dogs and other food items, has been hoping to bring his business to downtown Columbus. He and his staff already set up at Edinburgh Premium Outlets, downtown Louisville and other locations.
Customers like being able to buy a quick, inexpensive meal, said Mouser, who sells meals with sandwiches, chips and drinks for $5 to $6.
For Columbus, he is considering a range of options, including hot dogs, polish sausage, bratwurst, pulled pork, frozen ice and vegetarian items.
Mouser is unsure how business will be for him, but he believes street vendors can provide a good option for people and they can work well with other merchants downtown.
“We’re respectful of the restaurants, and what we do shouldn’t affect their business,” Mouser said.
Deb Steele, owner of Gramz Bakery and Cafe at 407 Washington St., said street vendors could be good for downtown, but she hopes the new ordinance takes into account their placement.
“I don’t want them out front of my establishment selling a competing item,” said Steele, who also doesn’t want the vendor to crowd the sidewalk, making it difficult for pedestrians to walk around them.
Steele also wants “an even playing field” with food vendors being required to have health department inspections.
Brittany Zoufal, manager O’Child Boutique at 408 Washington St., said she had similar concerns about vendors selling similar items as existing downtown businesses, but otherwise likes the idea of street vendors.
“I don’t see why not,” said Zoufal, who thought a food cart selling hot dogs or tacos might add another easy lunch choice for workers and shoppers downtown.
The mayor said residents can provide input by emailing the mayor or City Council through the city’s website at www.columbus.in.gov.