Rapid City, SD: City Weighs Changes to Sidewalk Vendor Program

Brady Douglas, co-owner of Phantasy Franks, sets up his hot-dog stand in Art Alley on Thursday, July 21, 2011. Douglas and his business partner, Kyle Comes, said their business has suffered because the city let one person snap up 10 of the 12 permitted locations for hotdog carts. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

Emilie Rusch | Rapid City Journal

Brady Douglas, co-owner of Phantasy Franks, sets up his hot-dog stand in Art Alley on Thursday, July 21, 2011. Douglas and his business partner, Kyle Comes, said their business has suffered because the city let one person snap up 10 of the 12 permitted locations for hotdog carts. (Ryan Soderlin/Journal staff)

Rapid City is considering changes to its sidewalk vendor program to prevent one person from monopolizing the sale of street food, cut flowers and nonalcoholic beverages downtown in the future.

The city Planning Commission discussed the current city ordinance at its meeting Thursday in response to staff concerns that the implementation of sidewalk vending has not stayed true to the intent of the original proposal.

After two years of receiving no requests, the city this year has awarded 10 of the 12 available fixed vendor locations to local businessman John Ashley, who said he plans to rotate one hot dog cart among all of the spots, starting Monday.

“There were some holes there that we just didn’t anticipate,” planning manager Vicki Fisher said. “As a result of that, we had an individual, Mr. Ashley — he took advantage of that ordinance as he should or could.”

Suggested changes include limiting the number of cart locations one person can amass, setting an expiration date for the location-specific permits and establishing rules for sites that are permitted but go unused. The Rapid City Council approved the original ordinance creating a sidewalk vendor program in 2009 and would have to approve any changes recommended by the Planning Commission.

Commissioner Steve Rolinger said that while he agrees there are some issues, the city will have to tread lightly if it decides to make any changes to the rules.

“I’d rather have somebody there that’s using it, not someone who’s moving a cart from place to place to place, but he’s done everything legally,” Rolinger said. “If we’re going to be putting any rules together, we need to have some legal advice here on what we can actually do and accomplish.”

The current ordinance requires sidewalk vendors to get both an annual operating license from the City Finance Office, which involves a background check and proof of a state food license, and a separate permit for one of the city’s 12 pre-approved locations they plan to operate in.

Only one cart is allowed per location, and vendors must carry a $2 million insurance policy for each location they have a permit for. Location permits expire only if a vendor does not renew his or her annual operating license or if that license is revoked.

Ashley, who has had past issues with the city over the condition of motel properties he owns in North Rapid, said that in his opinion, the best way to operate the program would be having all of the locations available to everyone every day on a first-come, first-serve basis. But with the ordinance written the way it is, he said he did what he thought he needed to do to have a successful business.

“I have no intent of not using the sites. I wouldn’t have paid $250 each to just not use it. I’m not going to do it like a domain name and just sit on it. My intent is to use them,” Ashley said. “I’ll be moving site to site.”

To date, Ashley said, he has invested about $15,000 in his hot dog business, including $2,500 to secure the 10 city permits.

But the operators of another hot dog cart said the fact that the city let Ashley snap up all but two approved locations for carts has hurt their business, which targets the late-night bar crowd. The Phantasy Franks food cart operates in the private parking lot between the 445 Martini Lounge and the Gambrill building on Main Street from about 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.

“I’ve really suffered, I think, because of our location,” said Brady Douglas, co-owner and operator of Phantasy Franks. “I can’t be out where the people are. I see the people every night. I’m seeing them walk across downtown. I know they’re all hungry people, but I’m not able to really get their attention or sell anything to them because I don’t have a hot dog spot.”

Of the 12 city-designated locations for food carts, the only two remaining are on Kansas City Street. Douglas said they have looked into having the city designate a new sidewalk spot for them at the corner of Main Street and Mount Rushmore Road, but the state won’t allow carts on its right-of-way. Mount Rushmore Road is also U.S. Highway 16.

Ashley, who will be operating his cart during daytime hours, said sharing a location with Phantasy Franks isn’t really an option, given the insurance requirements of the current ordinance.

“Even if I want someone else to use the location, if they didn’t have the policy for that location, I would be responsible,” Ashley said. “If the city would waive the insurance, yeah, I would probably have no problem with that whatsoever.”

Growth Management Director Brett Limbaugh said he hopes to bring forward more detailed suggestions by the next commission meeting Aug. 4.