Angry restaurateurs force Food Truck Festival away from downtown Burlington

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Published October 5, 2023 at 5:44 pm

Food truck festival Burlington park summer

Adamant their businesses are being harmed, restaurant operators and other shop owners in downtown Burlington have convinced local politicians to stop the Food Truck Festival from operating out of Spencer Smith Park, at least in 2024.

A City committee today agreed with local businesses that the Food Truck Festival was siphoning off customers from their restaurants during peak summer periods. Organizers of the event will now be asked to look at other Burlington locations for next year.

While the new approach still has to be officially approved at a City council meeting, all councillors were involved in the decision at the committee level.

The festival, which takes place in July for three days, has been ongoing for the past seven years at Spencer Smith Park and brings together about 20 truck vendors that sell a variety of food. The event attracts up to 40,000 people.

Downtown businesses have long argued that customers they rely on during key summer weekends are lost to the festival, as are the parking spaces for potential clients that are taken up by festival goers.

Food Truck Festival organizers say the event attracts large crowds of people eager to spend at nearby downtown businesses and that these shops have benefitted from the increased customer traffic that the food trucks bring in.

Also, festival organizers say that Spencer Smith Park is the only suitable location for the trucks as other Burlington parks don’t have the space to accommodate the crowds and traffic.

Speaking on behalf of the Burlington Downtown Business Association, Brian Dean pointed out that local businesses — ones that pay tax and special levies — are losing revenue because of the competition brought in by the food trucks.

Those concerns were echoed by Craig Kowalchuk of the Burlington Restaurant Association adding that small businesses downtown are recovering from post-COVID debt and are still struggling to survive.

“We’re not saying no to the Food Truck Festival,” said Kowalchuk. “We are saying move it so it’s not directly impacting 50 downtown restaurants and causing disruption.”

It was pointed out that the Sound of Music and Canada’s Largest Ribfest, two other major festivals at Spencer Smith, likely have more vendors but Kowalchuk said these events do not have the same impact on the food choices of potential customers.

“(The vendors at the other festivals) are part of the show, they are not the show,” Kowalchuk said. “They are not a direct assault on lunch and dinner choices in our restaurants downtown.”

Ben Freeman representing Canadian Food Truck Festivals, told the committee that his event has a positive impact on downtown Burlington. Freeman said the festival brings tourists into downtown Burlington, ones that wouldn’t otherwise come into the area. As well, he said the impact of the festival accounts for $11 million in local economic benefit.

Freeman said other parks in Burlington that have been proposed as alternative Food Truck Festival sites do not have the same amenities and space requirements needed to hold the event.

Still, a resolution approved by the committee invited Food Truck Festival organizers to apply to hold the event at another Burlington park next year.

 

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