Downtown Redding’s troubled Carnegie Park will become home to a food truck court under terms of a concession agreement approved Tuesday by a sharply divided City Council.
A pair of 3-2 votes, with the first failing to delay the issue for a couple of weeks and the second approving the plan proposed by former Liberty Christian High School basketball coach Todd Franklin, followed two hours of testimony and debate.
Council members Julie Winter and Kristen Schreder found themselves on the losing ends of both votes while Mayor Brent Weaver and council members Francie Sullivan and Adam McElvain joined forces to green-light the agreement.
The agreement means Franklin can begin transforming Carnegie Park into a gated area that will be home to three to seven food trucks. It will be open most days from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Franklin will pay a monthly rent of $850 and will be responsible for trash removal, landscape maintenance and providing portable bathrooms. To be called “The Park,” it will open June 1.
A bustling, family-friendly environment will draw more people to downtown and force transients and loiterers—many of whom have taken to using the park as a bathroom and heroin den—out of the area, Franklin said. The renewed interest in downtown and the extra foot traffic will benefit other businesses as well, he said.
Schreder said she wasn’t opposed to the plan, but she said there were too many unanswered questions—especially for a project that amounted to turning over a public park to a private entity that will be competing with downtown businesses.
Several of those business owners addressed the council on Tuesday and the majority said they liked the idea but not the location. Tina Carletta, a co-owner of Final Draft, a brewpub that just opened adjacent to the park, said she would not have signed a five-year lease and invested $500,000 into her business if she knew a city-subsidized food court was going to open outside her back patio.
Bill Shehan, whose daughter, Dayna Speers, and her husband, Brett, are opening a second Wilda’s Grill in the Cascade Square building, said he would not have invested in his daughter’s business if he had been made aware of Franklin’s project. Shehan said they’ll be paying three times the rent of Franklin, plus labor and other fixed costs.
“How can I compete with subsidized housing?” Shehan asked.
Other restaurateurs warned of inadequate parking, safety concerns over the Union Pacific railroad tracks that border Carnegie Park and the prospect of homeless drifters staying in the area. “This family-oriented idea is a joke,” said Marshall Glashan, the new owner of Café Paradisio.
Others, however, described the food truck court as a ray of light and an example of outside-the-box thinking that could transform a blighted eyesore into a vibrant centerpiece of downtown.
“Don’t let the darkness creep in,” said Lynn Fortenberry, adding that she has seen firsthand how food trucks can pump life back into struggling downtowns. Shannon Hicks said he supports his friend Franklin’s idea and noted that Redding police received more than 600 calls for service from Carnegie Park last year while two businesses left the Lorenz Hotel building. “The park has become a black eye and a no-go zone,” Hicks said.
Suzanne Russell, owner of the Carousel boutique on Yuba Street, said she supported the project and felt it could help put Redding on the road to becoming a destination not unlike Bend, Ore., or San Diego.
Jake Mangas, executive director of the Redding Chamber of Commerce, said his organization supports the project and believes it will benefit all downtown businesses. At the moment, he said, an unsightly chain-link fence surrounding the park “shows people where they can’t go, but soon, new gates from Gerlinger Steel will show you where you can go.”
In her motion to approve the project, Councilwoman Sullivan said she wanted to implore Franklin to initiate conversations with business owners surrounding the park and do what he can to alleviate their concerns.
Schreder said those conversations should have started long before the issue came before the council for a vote. “We owe it to the community to get it right,” she said in a last-gasp effort to continue the debate to a meeting in April.
“We don’t have all the answers,” agreed Weaver, while adding that time is of the essence if any semblance of a park is to be saved. “My school of thought is that this will help the brick-and-mortar restaurants. A parking problem is a great problem: it means there is excitement.”
In other action Tuesday, the council:
Policy Body Cameras
--Voted 5-0 to delay the implementation of a six-month pilot program for police body cameras and free up the $250,000 that had been set aside for the camera program. The money is in the city’s federal asset seizure account and will now be available for more pressing public safety issues.
The council voted in 2014 to authorize Police Chief Rob Paoletti to use the asset seizure money to purchase the cameras and data storage computers. Implementation of the program has been pending negotiations with the union representing police officers.
Council members said the body cameras were important, and are bound to be put in use eventually, but given the current budget constraints, spending the $250,000 “is not the best use of our resources,” Sullivan said.