A nondescript vacant lot in the Las Vegas Arts District has sparked a high-profile fight over whether it’s a good location for a food truck park.
Las Vegas City Council is expected to hear this week a proposal to allow several food trucks to set up shop at 1208 S. Casino Center Blvd., just south of Charleston Boulevard.
Proponents say the trucks would bring additional dining options to the south downtown area marked by art studios, nightlife, and kitsch.
Longtime food and beverage executive Noel Casimiro, part of the management team for the proposed food truck park, said it would host between eight and 10 trucks, with some top vendors from outside of Las Vegas rotating in and out throughout the year.
Casimiro said he was brought into the project because he has been putting on the Great American Foodie Festival for several years. The festival features 60 food vendors, most of them food trucks.
"Working on a much larger scale, (developer) Main Street Investments brought me in knowing that I have the capacity to do something so much bigger that I can definitely help manage eight to 10 food trucks in this lot," he said.
Casimiro said the food truck park will have all of the necessary facilities to make sure it is compliant with health district regulations, including handwashing stations, triple-compartment sinks and port-a-potties.
However, other businesses in the area don't believe the food truck park will have all the facilities needed.
Becky Miller is a business owner in the Arts District. She said she and other business owners do support food trucks coming downtown, but the lot that has been selected for this project is not the right fit.
"My concern is for this particular property. It is a very, very small dirt lot with alley access only, and the alley itself is really not set up to have a serious increase in traffic coming on it," she said.
Miller and others are concerned about parking for employees of the food trucks, truck customers, and food-delivery drivers picking up meals.
Derek Stonebarger is a bar owner in the area who said he also supports a food truck park but not at the lot that is seeking approval. He noted there isn't even electricity running to the lot right now, which means everything will have to run off generators.
In addition, he said the plan from the developers that he has seen is a multi-step plan, meaning some of the infrastructures for the lot will be put in after it is proven to be successful.
He said that is not how the city works and not how businesses like his work.
"I couldn't just see how it works, see how it goes and then put in a grease interceptor," he said, "I had to make a substantial investment in my property in order to function."
Stonebarger said every other business owner has to have facilities in place before they're approved by the city.
For his part, Casimiro said the project is complying with all the rules and regulations required, which is why it received approval from the planning commission.
He estimates about 500 people a day will be going to park, but he said that doesn't mean 500 people all at once. Instead, those customers will be flowing in and out of the property.
Yasser Zermeno operates three food trucks and two restaurants in Las Vegas. He is hoping to get one of the spots on the food truck park if it is approved by the city.
"One of the main reasons we want to be there is because I think it's going to be beneficial for both parties, not only the food trucks but also the restaurants," he said.
Zermeno said food trucks are not what they used to be. He said they are serving amazing food quickly. In addition, food truck operators usually have an extensive social media presence, which has the potential to bring hundreds of their followers to the area.
Unlike a lot of small businesses, Zermeno's business has survived the pain of the pandemic.
"At the end of the day, even if you're not making great amounts of money, we're staying in business, which is not the case for a lot of people, and I think that's what some of these opponents are failing to realize is that we are a small business that supports the economy of this town. We are creating jobs and we are helping the economy move forward."
Miller doesn't disagree with that. In fact, she said that many brick-and-mortar restaurants in the Arts District are smaller than some food truck operators.
"It's false that people are talking about us being big businesses trying to put down small businesses," she said.
Stonebarger agreed. He said he's not opposed to the idea at all but just wants it done fairly.
"The restaurants, the bars, the shops in the area, we do not oppose a food truck lot," he said, "We actually want a food truck lot. We just want it done properly."
Bob Coffin used to represent the area on the city council, and he's not entirely sure the opponents of the park are being genuine about their opposition.
"I wish, frankly, the owners of the established restaurants would just be upfront and just say, 'Look, we don't like you because it is competitive,'" Coffin said.
While he believes business owners are using "obtuse" language on the issue, Coffin said if he were still on council he would vote no, but for a different reason.
"This is a terrible time to even be considering this because these folks have lost a lot of money, and I would put it down to a couple of years from now giving it another consideration," he said.
Plus, Coffin said as soon as the value of the land that the park sits on goes up, the owner will sell so that a permanent structure can be put there.
"I would save [the developers] the trouble of them investing another dime in this and I would say 'no,'" he said.
Las Vegas Councilwoman Olivia Diaz, whose Ward 3 includes the Arts District, said she is waiting to hear the discussion at this week’s council meeting before making her decision.
Noel Casimiro, management team, proposed Arts District food truck park; Yasser Zermeno, food truck operator; Becky Miller, Arts District advocate, businesswoman; Derek Stonebarger, Arts District restaurateur, longtime downtown businessman; Bob Coffin, former Las Vegas councilman, Ward 3
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