MCBD director proposes food truck ‘pilot project’ at Cartwright Pavilion

T-R PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Marshalltown Central Business District (MCBD) Executive Director Deb Millizer addresses the city council about a proposed food truck court pilot project during Monday night’s meeting.

Residents on the hunt for their favorite food truck tacos, tenderloins, smoothies and more are rarely short on options when they’re looking for a bite to eat in Marshalltown, but the stands are currently spread out all over the community. During Monday night’s city council meeting, Marshalltown Central Business District (MCBD) Executive Director Deb Millizer proposed bringing them together in one place, the Cartwright Pavilion at the intersection of State Street and North 2nd Avenue where the farmer’s market is currently held.

As Millizer explained, some other nearby cities including Ames have established food truck courts, and she has been engaged in conversations with Public Works Director Heather Thomas, Parks and Recreation Director Geoff Hubbard and Farmer’s Market Manager Trisha Wilder about doing something similar here. For the first few months, she said, the vendors would not be charged to set up there, and if it goes well, they would add a small charge in the future. The goal is to have two to three per week at a time.

The project would also include some aesthetic improvements to the Farmer’s Market — not “high end,” according to Millizer, but at least bringing in some greenery, an archway and planter boxes.

“We’re wanting to make sure that it’s a project that can be maintained and is not overwhelming for anybody, any of our partners, but we think this is a great opportunity to see if a food truck court would work well in Marshalltown,” she said. “Food trucks are a magnet for people. People really enjoy them. We’d like to include a destination in the downtown where people come and they enjoy different cuisine, whether it’s a tenderloin, cheesesteaks, any kind of other cuisines. We’d ideally like to swap out the trucks on a regular basis.”

The recent Main Street Market Analysis indicated that people are mostly looking for new food choices on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays as several downtown restaurants are closed then.

T-R FILE PHOTO — The Cartwright Pavilion at the intersection of State Street and 2nd Avenue will be the site of a food truck court pilot project after the Marshalltown city council unanimously gave MCBD Executive Director Deb Millizer the green light to move forward with the plan during Monday night’s meeting.

When she opened the floor up to questions, Councilor Mike Ladehoff clarified that the fee Millizer was referring to would be assessed to the vendors and not the patrons, and she confirmed that. If the program is successful, she suggested implementing a small fee in the neighborhood of $40 for one day or $75 for three days, it would put “money in the pot” to enhance it further in the future.

She also touted the possibility of adding signage in partnership with the city to designate the food truck court, and Millizer said the leaders and vendors at the Farmer’s Market, which is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, are excited about the project. Councilor Greg Nichols asked about the cost of the aforementioned improvements, and Millizer responded with the estimates she had so far, they would run between $4,000 and $5,000. He also sought clarification on the days of operation, and Millizer said that while she would love to have the trucks on site at the same time as the farmer’s market, there are concerns about traffic congestion and parking availability.

Councilor Jeff Schneider felt that it was a good idea to try, and fellow Councilor Barry Kell wanted to know what Millizer was asking for from the council on Monday.

“I’m just asking for permission to do it down there and have your blessing, and we need to make some improvements. We want to paint the pavilion, add some greenery, things like that,” she said. “So I don’t know what the formal thing that I need from you is, but I would like to have your blessing.”

Councilor Gary Thompson wondered why the food trucks would set up on city property while paying the MCBD, which Millizer said is what already occurs with the farmer’s market.

“We don’t have any ordinances that I know of that conflict with the farmer’s market. We have an ordinance for food trucks. So are you wanting us to circumvent the ordinance for the food trucks to be there?” he asked.

City Clerk Alicia Hunter responded that the operators of the food trucks would be required to obtain public use permits. Thompson’s other concern was taking traffic off of Main Street near retail businesses as he felt it should be placed there instead. Millizer felt Main Street would be the ideal spot, but the infrastructure is already in place at the Cartwright Pavilion along with available parking.

“We’re trying to take an asset that we already have and elevate that asset. And do it as a pilot program and if it’s successful, maybe the city or another organization would invest in a food truck lot,” she said.

Thompson said he loved the idea of a food truck but not the location, describing it as “putting lipstick on a pig” because he felt the pavilion should be torn down and either sold to a developer or rebuilt.

“It’s too low. It’s not adequate. It’s not wide enough for even the farmer’s market. I just don’t like investing in the wrong location,” he said.

While she indicated that she wished they could launch the program at a more appealing spot, Millizer felt that the limited funds and resources the MCBD has made the pavilion a good place to start. Thompson’s final question was about whether the MCBD would foot the bill for restrooms and handwashing stations, and she said they were not required. Thompson suggested she speak to the nearest business owner who is open during the farmer’s market for further insight on events being held without restroom facilities.

“I understand, and I did talk to (the) farmer’s market about that. If we did add that, it would have to be a shared expense,” Millizer said.

Councilor Mark Mitchell suggested putting the food trucks closer to the Marshall County Courthouse, and Millizer said that does occur when they shut the block down between the courthouse and the annex down for special events like Bee Ridiculous Day and the Holiday Stroll. She reiterated that the goal of the pilot project was simply to make better use of an underutilized space and noted the upcoming reconstruction of Main Street as a reason she didn’t feel that it would make sense until that work is completed.

Councilor Barry Kell commented that the proposal was simply a pilot project, and it could always be tweaked and/or relocated in the future depending on what works and what doesn’t.

“We can’t solve all the problems without first trying,” he said.

As the item was only up for discussion and not a formal resolution, Kell motioned to move forward with the program while making it “explicitly clear” that the city will not be asked to make any initial financial commitment. Ladehoff agreed that it was a good first step to try and see what kind of reaction it garners, and while he understood Thompson’s concerns, he didn’t want to place the court in an empty city-owned lot that’s currently for sale and end up having to tear it up after it sells.

“I think, as a pilot project, I think it’s a good project, it’s fun, and it costs the city nothing,” Ladehoff said.

One public commenter, Allan Kent, asked if the trucks would have to provide permits and licenses and pass inspections, and Ladehoff responded that they would be required to have all of them in accordance with city code and state law. Doris Kinnick, who spoke next, felt the project was a great idea as someone who already loves the atmosphere of the farmer’s market.

The motion passed unanimously. On Wednesday, Millizer told the T-R that the next steps will include arranging for improvements in the area, communicating with food truck operators and booking them with hopes of having them there by June 1.


Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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