Is bringing out of town food trucks to downtown Alpharetta the right thing to do? Does this help draw customers to the area, or does it pull customers away from other restaurants? Is giving an event business an alcohol permit for all of those Thursdays violating current ordinances designed to keep bars out of the city?
Those were just a few of the questions that council members and local business owners had for Special Events Manager Kim Dodson and the two companies trying to partner with Alpharetta for "Alpharetta Food Truck Thursdays."
Council members voted to table the proposal until the next meeting in two weeks to give staff time to get answers.
Council members almost universally liked the idea of a food truck event in downtown, but the devil was in the details. Dodson brought a proposal that would create a weekly event in downtown Alpharetta. She said Fork in the Road, a food truck vendor that operates at the Smyrna Food Truck Tuesday, among other events, had applied for a special events permit to bring food trucks to downtown once a week. In 2014 when the proposal was fully engaged, 28 weeks of "Food Truck Thursdays" would be scheduled.
"At what point does the city have to go after competitive bidding," Councilman Chris Owens asked.
Dodson said Fork in the Road proposed bringing in Premiere Events to help manage the events, and it would sell beer under a special events permit.
But Owens and other council members questioned if the city's ordinances would allow a special events alcoholic beverage permit for 28 days. City Attorney Sam Thomas responded that while staff was looking at changes to city laws, they had not considered allowing that many days.
"The purpose of our alcohol ordinance is that we don't have bars," said Councilman D.C. Aiken. "In theory we have a bar right there in that square. If that's the way we want to go, I'm fine with that. It's an interesting slope that we are going down here."
Councilman Jim Gilvin was among the members who asked why the city would partner with an out-of-town vendor at the expense of local businesses.
"One of the concerns I have, we've got restaurants all over Alpharetta, not just downtown. They are struggling to get by," Gilvin said.
Those restaurants pay property taxes, so how is this good for them, he asked.
Dodson said this vendor filed an application with the city when they were looking for a weekly event.
The city would provide entertainment, electricity, dumpster, portable toilets and staff for the event, which would require police, fire and public works employees, plus special events staff.
The Vintage Corks and Gourmet Trucks was presented as a successful example of food trucks in Alpharetta. That event was sponsored by Vino 100 of downtown Alpharetta and Sip Wine of Crabapple.
Councilman Donald Mitchell said downtown restaurants were fuller than he's ever seen them before during the Vintage Corks event. Shop and boutique owners love anything that brings people downtown who wouldn't already be there, he said.
David Sheets, who owns Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market, a growler store in downtown Alpharetta, said he's a big proponent of food trucks.
"Having a special event be able to do this 28 times a year when I can't do it, I have a problem with it. Beyond that, I think having events downtown is wonderful," Sheets said.
"What I don't want to see is hiring a whole bunch of outside people and then the city is paying a big portion of this," Sheets said.
He would like to see more than one local restaurant be allowed to participate with the food trucks.
"As a business owner, the partnership aspect of it, that sounds wonderful. As a property owner and taxpayer here, do I want to pay to subsidize another business? That's just something I'm thinking about," Sheets said.
While he doesn't hold the type of alcohol permit that would allow him to sell alcohol on Milton Avenue, there are businesses in downtown that could.
"I think an opportunity should be given to the local businesses here in downtown Alpharetta to allow them to profit," Sheets said.