Business

Six Food Trucks Will Be Allowed Back on Prime Downtown Streets

Leilani Johnson's food truck was on the block where the July 17 shooting took place.
Leilani Johnson's food truck was on the block where the July 17 shooting took place. RJ's TacoWich Facebook
Six food trucks could be allowed back in the busiest area of downtown's entertainment district next weekend.

In late July, the Denver Police Department announced that food trucks would no longer be allowed to operate between 19th and 20th streets on Blake Street, 19th and 21st streets on Market Street, and 20th and 21st streets on Larimer on Fridays and Saturdays.

The move came after DPD officers, responding to reports of an altercation and trying to subdue a man who reportedly had a gun, shot into the crowd at 20th and Larimer streets as bars were closing early in the morning of July 17, injuring six bystanders. Since last summer, the DPD has been searching for ways to reduce the crime that occurs around let-out in downtown Denver, when bars must get their patrons out the door by the 2 a.m. closing time. After this latest incident, the department touted moving food trucks off those streets as one way to decrease crowds, chaos and crime, but food truck owners complained that they weren't consulted before the decision was made.

Leilani Johnson's RJ's TacoWich was parked in front of Herb's Hideout when the shooting started, and Johnson lost her spot when the DPD banned food trucks from the 2000 block of Larimer. Concerned about the loss of business for small entrepreneurs, she started a petition urging the city to allow the food trucks back. In the meantime, she and other food truck owners pushed for a meeting to discuss the situation.

They got one on August 17, when a DPD representative said that six food trucks will be allowed back on those prime LoDo and Ballpark neighborhood streets starting the weekend of August 25 — but they will have to pack up and leave by midnight. "It still doesn’t feel like a solution," Johnson says. "It’s better than being banned, though."

The six spots that will allow food trucks haven't been precisely identified, but the DPD floated the suggestion of three spots on the 2000 block of Market and three on either the 1800 block of Market or the 2100 block of Larimer. Johnson points out that not only is the 1800 block outside of the banned area, it's not busy enough to provide many sales; she recommended the department go with the 2100 block of Larimer instead.

According to Nancy Kuhn, marketing and communications Manager for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the city is working on rules that could allow some permits to be issued on streets that have been closed down recently, but the details are not yet finalized. This weekend, the city will continue to allow no permits between the 1900 and 2200 blocks of Blake, Market and Larimer streets.

Once the six spots are announced, food truck owners will have to go through the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure process to apply for them; the spots will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

But according to Johnson, that application system has many problems. She says that she and many other owners have had trouble with the online portal, so they must fill out an application and send it to an email address, which puts them lower in the queue than those who have had success with the portal.

Kuhn says that DOTI helped troubleshoot with one food truck owner who had difficulty getting into the portal, but hasn't heard about other recent problems.

At the meeting, the DPD rep said the new policy could last up to 180 days under an emergency designation.

"We lost our minds, because that’s practically through winter," Johnson says. She urged the DPD to consider a much shorter time frame.

While the DPD representative seemed responsive to the owners' suggestions, he also didn't seem like the person in charge of making the decisions, Johnson suggests, adding that she wonders why no one else from the city showed up at the meeting. "It feels like they were going through the motions of making us feel heard," she says.

The Denver Police Department has not yet responded to a request for comment.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire