Biz group leaves food trucks to city lawmakers

October 20, 2011 Updated Oct 20, 2011 at 7:40 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink, Buffalo Business First Reporter

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October 20, 2011 Updated Oct 20, 2011 at 7:40 AM EDT

Despite the urging from one of its directors, Buffalo Place Inc. is staying in neutral on the operation of mobile food trucks.

Instead, Buffalo Place Inc.'s directors said in a resolution they will support the continued operation of food trucks in downtown and elsewhere in the city, but only after the Common Council approves appropriate regulations that govern where and how they are run.

Developer Carl Paladino had been pushing for Buffalo Place to oppose the trucks inside the organization footprint that cuts through the spine of downtown's central business district. Paladino's resolution was voted down, after a nearly 35-minute long debate among Buffalo Place directors.

Food trucks are beginning to gain in popularity in Buffalo, following the lead in other cities. But, their growth has raised issues about where the trucks should situated and what rules should govern their operation.

Buffalo Common Council member Joseph Golombek Jr., who represents the city's North District, put together an ad-hoc committee to review food truck operations. The committee was formed one month ago, but has issued no recommendations, yet.

Paladino said he is concerned that the food trucks are siphoning lunch-time sales from restaurateurs in his buildings, especially during the summer.

"Food trucks are coming in during the best part of the year and taking profit margins from the tenants in our buildings," Paladino said.

Keith Belanger, Buffalo Place chairman, said since the organization began discussing the food truck issue in September more than 5,000 emails in support of the mobile vendors have come in to organization's website.

"The 5,000 emails mean nothing to me, it was probably just a campaign run by the truck operators," Paladino said. "What the property owners say means something to me."

Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo Place director, said he has repeatedly heard from tenants in his buildings that they like having food trucks on their doorstep.

"They are fun," Zemsky said. "They are entrepreneurial. I don't think they had hand-to-hand combat in the streets of Portland or Seattle over food trucks."

Still, there are also horror stories connected to the trucks.

Paul Snyder III, whose family owns and operates the Hyatt Regency Hotel, said one operator who had a truck in Roosevelt Plaza across from his hotel failed to bring a trash bin for garbage left by the truck's customers. The operator also ran a noisy, gas-powered portable generator that Snyder said guests in his hotel found disruptive.

"Just because it has wheels, doesn't mean that it can't be a good neighbor," Snyder said.

Mark Croce, whose holdings includes several restaurants as well as Statler City - the former Statler Towers, said food trucks serve a purpose. They help fill dining niches that may either be limited or not available while adding to the "urban vibrancy" in downtown.

Croce noted Buffalo has welcomed a small army of street vendors selling hot dogs for years.

"I don't think anyone ever lost a tenant because of hot dog vendor," Croce said.

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