Grand Rapids OKs food trucks at downtown art museum

File photo.
File photo.

Last Thursday, the Grand Rapids Planning Commission unanimously approved a special land use permit for the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) to host food trucks on Wege Plaza, in between the museum and Rosa Parks Circle. The request was made by GRAM CFO Randy Van Antwerp in time for ArtPrize.

The proposal states that a truck would normally operate for breakfast and lunch three days a week, with additional hours for special events. The permit allows up to two trucks to operate 200 days a year from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The permit is the first in downtown Grand Rapids allowing food trucks on private land, though food stands are permitted on certain downtown streets. Previous discussions of food trucks have raised opposition from restaurants who are worried that food trucks will draw business away from their establishments.

The GRAM’s proposal intended to address these concerns by only offering food that was not available from nearby restaurants and other mobile vendors. No restaurateurs spoke against the proposal at the commission meeting.

Lynee Wells, a local urban planner at Williams Works, is supportive of the permit. “Food trucks provide another dining option for downtown dwellers and visitors alike.” Current nearby dining options include T.G.I. Friday’s, The Dog Pit, Angel Thai, Cinco de Mayo, Leo’s and Parsley Mediterranean Grille.

The move is part of a trend of greater acceptance of food trucks in Michigan. In August, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation awarded almost $78,000 in grants to help food trucks start or expand their businesses.

According to Wells, “In places like Traverse City, food trucks are seen as an important business incubator, often translating into a fixed restaurant and an important component of their downtown economic development strategy.” In addition to food trucks, which stay in one location while operating, Grand Rapids allows food carts and mobile vendors, such as ice cream trucks, to operate downtown.

The GRAM proposal highlights Wege Plaza’s assets, such as under-utilized covered outdoor dining areas and convenient public facilities. Food trucks will be required to recycle and compost in keeping with the GRAM’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

Adjacent Rosa Parks Circle hosts a variety of events throughout the year, such as ice skating during the winter and, until recently, swing dancing every Tuesday during the summer. The GRAM is also a focal point of Art Prize.

What the Truck, a local food truck run by The Winchester, will be at the GRAM during ArtPrize.  Other area food trucks, such as Papa Joe’s Southern BBQ, run by Joe Mitchell, have expressed interest in operating downtown.