“Food fight looms as Miami considers ban on arena street vendors”
South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Food fight looms as Miami considers ban on arena street vendors
By Charles Rabin, The Miami Herald
4:24 AM EDT, July 14, 2011
Food vendors and Miami used to go together like hot dogs and sauerkraut. From Flagler Street to the old Miami Arena to the Orange Bowl, it seemed every corner had someone serving sausages, hot New York pretzels doused in mustard, shish-kabobs or arepas.
But as Miami evolved into gleaming condos, a bustling Civic Center and a thriving Government Center, the gritty roadside food vendor has gone the way of the Pinto — still around but rarely seen, and, to some, not exactly aesthetically pleasing.
And now, the few vendors who remain could be gone by the end of September if the City of Miami gets its way. On Thursday, commissioners are set to vote to rid the downtown neighborhood surrounding the AmericanAirlines Arena of food vendors, who mostly serve fans of the Miami Heat. The ordinance would take effect immediately, meaning no new permits will be issued. And those with current permits would have until the end of September when they expire. Vendors would still be allowed to operate on private property, but that would require obtaining a separate permit from the city.
The reasons, city leaders and members of Miami’s semi-autonomous Downtown Development Authority say, are numerous: Lack of cleanliness, competition with nearby restaurants, even danger to Heat patrons trying to get to crowded games. The vending district runs from Northeast Fifth to Northeast 11th streets, and from Biscayne Boulevard to Northeast First Avenue.
“As new restaurants open up, there’s really not a need for street vendors,” said DDA Executive Director Alyce Robertson.
DDA members, whose goal is to promote business in the downtown area, voted this week to support the measure proposed by the city manager’s office. The Heat, with its pricey concessions inside the basketball arena, supports it as well.
Still, Ricardo “Ricky” De La Hoz, the owner of Ricky’s Arepas, keeps a smiling face. For 20 years he’s been setting off with hot dog carts from his small Coral Way-area warehouse for destinations throughout Miami. But as restrictions tightened and vending fees increased, he has had to hit the road, traveling to special events in Key West and Daytona Beach.
“They make it very difficult with all the ordinances to make a living,” said De La Hoz. “They don’t want the competition outside.”
De La Hoz sells a hot dog for $2, an arepa for $3. That’s three to four times cheaper than the prices inside the AmericanAirlines Arena, where food choices are greater. Yet it’s not the competition that has the Heat backing the city ordinance, said Kim Stone, executive vice president and general manager of the AAA.
“The Arena has traditionally been concerned about the street vendors that operate during events because they impede pedestrians, causing them to step into the street, which aggravates traffic, but most importantly creates serious safety hazards for drivers and pedestrians,” she said.
That doesn’t sit well with at least one Heat fan who usually attends a half dozen or so games a year. Attorney Morris Bender said he’s not surprised the Heat would try to maximize profits.
“It’s obviously just so they can make more money inside,” said Bender. “They can’t make something up better than that?”
If commissioners approve the measure, it would only affect the 10 or so vendors currently permitted for the arena area. None are there now — the Heat’s preseason doesn’t begin until late October. And other than the arena, the competition for food patrons isn’t particularly fierce in the immediate neighborhood.
Thursday’s vote would also affect a vending district to the west of the boulevard near the old Miami Arena, which was torn down well over a decade ago.
The city’s two other food vending districts — the central business area near the Miami-Dade Government Center and the Civic Center area — won’t be affected by the vote. But food vendors there are a dying breed too.
That’s especially true in the city’s Central Business District, which runs roughly from the Miami River north to 24th Street, and I-95 east to Biscayne Boulevard, and which is regulated by the DDA. There, sidewalk cafes have multiplied, forcing more and more vendors out. Permits there are awarded through a lottery system. But because of a host of rules that regulate distance to restaurants and space allowed on sidewalks, only 18 of the 75 permits allowed are currently filled.
Jose Goyanes, who owns the indoor/outdoor restaurant Tre Italian Bistro at 270 E. Flagler St., said the street vending has created a circus-like atmosphere the city has trouble keeping tabs on. “And there are other issues, like trash on the streets,” he said. “It needs to be regulated and controlled.”
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes the Flagler and Heat arena neighborhoods, supports the measure because it cuts down on competition to restaurants like Tre. “We’re trying to facilitate a more robust downtown,” he said.
Meanwhile, vendors like De La Hoz are looking west to the new Marlins ballpark being built on the site where they once plied their trade during University of Miami football games. For now, according to Miami Public Works Director Nzeribe Ihekwaba, vendors will have the right to obtain permits on public rights-of-way there. But whether that will be the case when the Marlins begin playing in the new stadium in April 2012 is still up in the air.
Calls to the Marlins were not returned. And Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo, who represents the stadium’s Little Havana district, said he needed time to study the situation before commenting.
De La Hoz sees a minimum of 81 home games there a year and possible special events at the ballpark as the windfall he’s been waiting for.
“I’m looking forward to the new stadium,” he said.