It’s been a rough go for some of the small businesses who took up the challenge of attracting people downtown more than a decade ago. Some have fallen to skyrocketing rents. The survivors have weathered lean years and floods. Now one of them say’s he’s out of business and the city is to blame.
Jim Bell expected to have his Hot Dog stand out to the River Walk today selling dogs, sodas and ice cream to people enjoying the weather and the river. Instead, his cart was parked outside his Kayak store on West First Street, 86'ed from the spot he's operated from for years on the sidewalk at West Street Plaza.
The issue is a city ordinance prohibiting vending in a city park, except during special events. The sidewalk that separated the West Street Plaza from the river and Wingfield Park became part of the park when the city redefined it as park property last year. Hot Dog vendor Susan Hahn says she met with a Park employee recently who showed her where she could set up. Everything seemed OK, in fact, they operated here last weekend.
Then came the Cease and Desist order. City spokesman Chris Good admits the boundaries have changed, but says Bell has known of the change since at least last summer. Good says the city wants businesses like Bell's to succeed and says it has offered to help him find another location close by. But at this point Bell only communicates with the city through his attorney. It's no longer a business dispute, he says, it's a matter of civil rights.
For the moment at least Bell has taken his hot dog stand home, there's one less vendor adding to the downtown River walk experience. He's not alone. We talked with the employee of another business, an inner tube rental that was also kicked out when park boundaries were changed
As far as why the boundary changed, we couldn’t find a reason today. A spokesman for the city parks department said he was unaware of any issue the department had with Bell. The reason for the city ordinance prohibiting vendors is twofold. It competes with special events vendors who want exclusivity and pay for that privilege and there are issues of damage to park grounds. But this is not green grass we're talking about, it's a sidewalk and this was a Monday morning, no special event. The city concedes those points, but says rules are rules. They apply to everyone.