An online petition is being circulated, asking the city of Dayton to reverse its decision not to renew a lease to Synergy Incubator, the non-profit responsible for a series of downtown Dayton food truck rallies that a combined 12,000 people have attended this year.
Synergy Incubator co-founder Tonia Fish said she does not know the man who set up the Change.org petition “City of Dayton, Ohio: Extend the lease for 200 South Jefferson Street for Synergy Incubators.” But it’s an indication that the community sees the benefits of the project that has hosted five parking lot food truck rallies since first leasing the former site of Sa-Bai Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar in July.
Fish said the non-profit hopes to continue operating at the Jefferson Street location, but would like to work with Dayton economic development officials to find a new location if that doesn’t happen.
“My hope is that we can keep this project in the urban core,” she said. Other communities have expressed interest.
Synergy, a nonprofit aimed at offering certified commercial kitchen support services and programs, must vacate the Jefferson Street location by close of business December 31.
Fish said she and her nine-member board were “blind-sided” with news last week that the temporary lease would not be made permanent.
Dayton Recreation and Youth Services Director Joe Parlette said the city elected to end its lease with Synergy partly because of input of Oregon District and downtown businesses collected by the Downtown Dayton Partnership, and partly because it was not satisfied with Synergy’s business plan and financial resources.
“They are very heavily reliant on donations and volunteerism,” he said. “Our biggest concern is the lack of available capital right out of the gate.”
Parlette said that the city aims to fill the space with a business that is more sustainable, perhaps a restaurant.
“For us, it is a concern of long-term viability,” he said. “It is in our best interest to find one thing that would work for a longer period.”
Fish said that she first learned that the city questioned the sustainability of her organization’s business plan while reading a Dayton Daily News article printed last week. She denied Parlette’s assertion that Synergy ever doubted its business plan and said feedback from Parlette during her conversation with him last week was that the plan was “good, innovative and solid.”
She said her board only asserted that each of Synergy’s revised business plans call for food truck rallies.
She likened the food trucks to museum stores, saying that they provided a revenue stream that would support Synergy’s kitchen, which would eventually provide work space for small caterers, bakers and other food preparers. The ultimate goal, she said, would be to house the kitchen in a large facility like the Dayton Public School Central Kitchen.
Trucks were charged $50 each to participate in the food truck rallies during downtown monthly First Friday events. Synergy’s rent to the city was $600 per month. Fish said the rate was reduced from $723.75 per month, partly because Synergy could only hold food truck events once a month. She said Sa-Bai owners paid $964.37.
Jenny Cox, owner of the Dayton-based Go Cupcake food truck and vice president of the newly formed 20 member Miami Valley Mobile Food Association, said Dayton is generally not friendly to food trucks. She started her business two years ago believing that much of her work would be done in Dayton.
“There’s just been a lot of road blocks that have been put up for food trucks to operate in the city of Dayton,” she said.
Current city regulations on food truck sales follow two tracks. Food truck sales can happen on private property, as long as city zoning and building regulations are followed.
But for sales on downtown streets, there are two designated areas — East Second Street between Jefferson and St. Clair, and West Third Street near Sinclair Community College and the Montgomery County administration building.
Cox, who participated in each of Synergy’s rallies, said neither location has good foot traffic and would be suitable. Synergy’s work was useful, she said.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said there is room for food trucks and Synergy’s kitchen downtown, but the rallies should not be held in such proximity of established bricks and mortar businesses that have made long-term investments in the city.
At the behest of the city, Gudorf said the DDP gathered input from 15 to 20 downtown and Oregon District bars, restaurants and shops to gauge the feeling about food trucks. They were asked if they support Synergy’s kitchen incubator, rallies for Urban Night and First Friday Art Hops and if they supported and more frequent present of food trucks.
While businesses support the kitchen, the bulk did not support food truck rallies so close to the entertainment district.
Gudorf said food trucks being vitality and people to urban cores.
“I hope that we can come to a compromise where food trucks and brick and mortar (businesses) can co-exist,” she said. “We understand that there is probably a place for food trucks. “We would be happy to find a location for food trucks will permanently hold rallies.”