The food truck roundup that accompanies Art Walk in Wynwood on the second Saturday of every month has been cancelled amid a storm of accusations between the food trucks operators and Brad Knoefler, the neighborhood activist who spearheaded the creation of Grand Central Park in downtown.
Art Walk itself will go on as usual (see our exhibition guide).
The City of Miami’s code enforcement department informed the food trucks on Thursday that they could not gather in the lot at 2238 N.W. Second Avenue during Art Walk this Saturday because they did not have the proper permits. The city’s action came just hours after Knoefler emailed officials inquiring about the event’s permit status.
While previous food truck gatherings during Art Walk had the required “special use” permit, the lot recently changed hands, and the trucks were still in the middle of the permit process with the new owner, according to Richard Hales, a leader in the food truck community and the operator of the Dim Ssam a gogo truck and the Sakaya Kitchen restaurants in downtown and Midtown.
“We can’t complain to the city,” Hales said. “They’re doing their job and we have to follow the rules like everybody else. It’s very unfortunate that a person who calls [himself] an activist for the people … and is trying to promote development for the city, incites the zoning department to take action. It’s not what we need to move forward.”
Knoefler said it was not his intent to get the event shut down, but that he was acting to protect the “general community” and that he was “tired of illegal events,” which he sees as dangerous for the participants and potentially harmful to the reputation of the area.
“My intent has been very clear for years,” Knoefler said. “We want to make sure this stuff gets legitimized.”
Knoefler elaborated on his position in a statement on the Grand Central Park Facebook page, but it was eventually deleted. In 2009, Knoefler founded the Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association (OPRA), the non-profit that runs Grand Central Park, to try to counteract the deterioration of “Miami’s most blighted neighborhoods.” A member of the OPRA board who wished to remain anonymous said Knoefler’s actions and statements were his alone and did not represent the opinion of OPRA or Grand Central Park.
“His post was deleted,” the board member said. “It did not represent the unanimous opinion of the board. There will be an upcoming statement.”
Knoefler later sent out his statement via email. Here’s an excerpt:
As responsible citizens we must ensure that life safety issues are addressed properly and legally. Our intention is never to shut down an event but to secure their long-term success. We are big proponents of any activities that happen in Miami bringing people, culture and economic development.
Normalizing the temporary use process is important to ensure a level playing field for all. We remain committed to assist any venue, small business or property owner with the temporary use permit process.
You can read the full statement on the Open Media Miami Facebook page.
Update: OPRA executive director Mark Lesniak emailed the following statement to the food truck community at 12:21 p.m. on Friday, March 9, after some food trucks threatened to boycott a “Food Truck Happy Hour” at Grand Central Park.
Dear Miami Food Truck Community:
OPRA understands that recent posts have left the impression that we are responsible for the cancellation of the Second Saturday food truck round up. We are not.
According to Mr. Hale, the organizer of the event, he decided to cancel the event rather than potentially receive a warning or fine from the City of Miami for having an unpermitted special event. That means a NOV is issued with time to correct the violation (e.g., complete the permit process with the City).
Rumors of competitive animus or underhanded business practices are untrue. OPRA loves food trucks and fought for the vacant land permit that was created specifically for them. The email about the permit had nothing to do with our event today or with food trucks in particular. OPRA routinely calls the City of Miami whenever a special event is taking place but no notice was received from the City (OPRA is on the list of organizations that receives such notifications).
OPRA continues to welcome food trucks at the Park and, as part of its community service obligations, does NOT charge a fee to any vendors, including food trucks, for operating at the Park.
I sincerely hope we will all over come this in the near future. Feel free to join us today from 5-9pm.
Update #2: David Lombardi, a board member of the Wynwood Arts District Assocation (WADA), emailed the following statement about the cancellation to Barnaby Min, the City of
Miami zoning administrator.
As a board member of the Wynwood Arts District association, this “knee-jerk” reaction by the City to shut down this Second Saturday’s food truck round-up at the last minute is a big problem for us business owners in the neighborhood. The round-up is the only way to bring order to chaos on these events by herding all of the responsible food truck vendors into one site so they do not block all the street parking spots in front of all the galleries.
It also reduces garbage and debris from being scattered along NW 2nd Avenue. If the City is going to make a move like this, then please have them send out some code enforcement inspectors that night to police the area for all the unlicensed vendors and illegal parking in loading zones etc… The idea for this “round-up” came partly out of the City’s lack of presence on these nights and therefore, we felt we had to take matters into our own hands and control the chaos. In addition, we pay for 3-4 off duty police officers at each one of these to control traffic flow and want to be a responsible neighborhood association. In closing, I fear this action will be counterproductive and I am pleading with you to help “fast-track” a permit for these guys to make this event a “go” for tomorrow night!!
Lombardi later told Open Media Miami, “It’s strange that Brad [Knoefler] would raise this issue being that he doesn’t own any property in Wynwood. His timing is curious”
According to Jim Heins, the owner of Latin Burger, one of the first food trucks to operate in South Florida, the cancellation of the Wynwood event could be a major loss for many food truck owners, as it tends to be their biggest night of the month.
“It’s a real shame that the one night of the month that we actually go out and make a profit, some guy has to make a stupid phone call and take it away from us,” he said. “Well, where does this come from? Why would you do this? It [the event] supports these small mom and pop operators, and gives the chance to find the money to survive.”
Heins had been planning to attend “Food Truck Happy Hour” at Grand Central Park on Friday but withdrew Latin Burger from the event when he found about Knoefler’s role in the cancellation of the food truck roundup during Art Walk.
“I believe in their project, but after what this guy did, I can’t support it,” Heins said.
Hales said that while the zoning department told him it was too late to pull a permit for Saturday, he’s confident they will be able to obtain one in time for Art Walk in April.
For his part, Knoefler said he would do “everything possible” on Friday to work with the city so that the Saturday event could go forward as orginally planned.
“It’ll happen,” he said.
We will update this story as we learn more information. In the meantime, here is how the news of the cancellation played out on Twitter.
This post was produced in partnership with Open Media Miami.