Berkeley officials mull plan for food truck village
Anyone who visits the Berkeley Marina will notice the stunning views, plentiful outdoor sports opportunities, and paucity of casual dining. While the Marina complex encompasses 60 acres of upland and 40 acres of water, the three waterfront restaurants are seated affairs, well-appointed dining rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and skyline of San Francisco. The only casual dining spot is far from a major attraction, so visitors looking for more affordable options should bring their own food.
That may soon change, as the City of Berkeley worked with Innovation Properties Group (IPG), a real estate service provider, to see what it would take to set up a food truck village at the southern tip of the marina. , in a bayside gust parking lot that once served banquet destination Seigneuries Hswho has been vacant since 2018.
“By November 1, 2022, IPG will submit for city review a proposed project concept, including description of proposed partners, activities/use of space, concept drawing, gross revenue estimates and a draft term sheet,” the Berkeley City Council meeting read. agenda for July 26, 2022. This passage referred to an exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) entered into by the two parties for the purpose of settling a long-term lease of the city property at 199 Seawall Dr., and a short-term lease to activate part of the adjacent parking lot.
Since then, the Town Hall has extended the ENA for an additional 9 months, with the possibility of adding two additional 3-month extensions. The new deadlines “will allow time for IPG to develop a proposed project and negotiate the terms of potential leases,” Scott Ferries, director of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department, told Nosh via email. (IPG partner Ivan Smiljanic declined to comment on Nosh while the City deal is pending.)
“Things like that sometimes take a long time, and we’re in the middle of COVID,” Ferris said in a later interview. “IPG is looking for donors and trying to determine who will participate in their development… We are in the middle of negotiations, but we are making progress.
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also said progress is being made on the potential food truck fleet, and that “IPG has come forward and really brought together some exciting partners. Some of them had experience in live entertainment or had a lot of experience running successful restaurants. »
“Have you been to Off the Grid or different types of events where there are food trucks?” Arreguín asked Nosh, citing the initial ENA released at a city council meeting on Sept. 28, 2021. That document described the proposed Food Truck Village at Berkeley Marina as “similar to a Food Truck Village/ recreational garden in San Francisco”, and Arreguín repeated that notion, saying “I think that’s the idea, to have something…that can bring people to this place, revitalize this place, activate this space .”
Ashlyn McFadden, a SoMa StrEat Food Park team leader who set up the ParkLab Garden and SPARK Social SF food truck villages in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, said she supports Berkeley Marina’s plan. . McFadden said his team helped transform Mission Bay from “more or less a food desert” into a foodie destination. “There were no grocery stores, no convenience stores, only a Subway sandwich shop and a pie [store],” she says.
The area now hosts a mix of permanent and rotating food trucks, surrounded by more permanent cafes and restaurants. “Between the two parks, we host an average of 20 food trucks per day,” McFadden said. “We work on a roster of about 150 food trucks, so it’s a wide variety that visits spaces day in and day out,” she said.
Lisa Bullwinkel, an event producer who managed the Fourth of July and the Berkeley Kite Festival at the Marina for 26 years, is excited about the potential for a food truck village in the wasteland. “I think putting food trucks at the marina is a really good idea. People don’t want to buy things, but they want to eat,” Bullwinkel said. She introduced food trucks to the festivals she runs a decade ago and said that at big events, some vendors generate between $20 and $25,000 a day.
Bullwinkel also suggested the concept could fit well with the ongoing proposal to inaugurate a trans-bay ferry service from the marina. “Especially if the ferry is going to be set up, having food trucks would be really great because people want to eat on the way to work or on the way back from work,” Bullwinkel said.
Waterfront Department senior management analyst Roger Miller acknowledged the town had the same idea and would be prepared to expand its offering if a ferry service was launched and the food truck village proved popular and successful. He also suggested that when people go to the food trucks it could spark interest in the vacant space at Hs Lordships. After all, food truck customers will see his “big and beautiful building” when they visit the village. “It draws people in, so the whole area will know about this building,” Miller said, suggesting they might even come back for dinner if this building finds a tenant.
While city officials seem positive about the proposal, there’s still one environmental factor that could make or break their food truck idea: wind.
The nearby Cal Sailing Club has two sensors where trucks might one day park, one on the roof of what was once Hs Lordships, the other on a lamp post in the lot. “We want to know what the wind speed is here in the water, that’s the closest point,” said 67-year-old windsurfer John Mankey.
Mankey said that in summer, the windiest season of the year, gusts can reach nearly 30 mph, while for most of the year the average speed fluctuates between 11 and 18 mph; it is only in winter that the wind calms down.
Bullwinkel, the event producer, says she handled the wind problem by placing the food vendors she was hosting elsewhere in the marina. “They were never in the parking lot at Hs Lordships because honestly it was too windy. This is not a parking lot where you want to hang around for very long,” she added. “I don’t know how it will work.”
“The food truck is a great idea, good for us,” said Cal Sailing Club member Sophie Horiuchi. “I just don’t know how they handle the wind. Maybe people buy the food and hide in their car to eat?
Another question is whether Berkeley merchants have abandoned their traditional opposition to new food truck villages. For example, Off The Grid, the Bay Area’s largest food truck network, attempted to launch several villages in Berkeley in the 2010s. After years of complaints from local businesses about the “damaging effect” of food trucks on traditional restaurants, the company closed its last villagenear the North Berkeley BART station, in February 2016.
The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce might be the best group to answer this question, but it did not respond to repeated requests for comment. However, a representative from Hana Japan, one of the marina’s restaurants and a member of the Chamber of Commerce, said he was not worried about possible competition from the food truck village and cited the more relaxed truck fare. .
A final question is the fate of the Hs Lordships building, a bustling restaurant for nearly half a century before it closed in 2018. Since then, the city has tried again and again to rent the space, hiring professionals from real estate and receiving multiple proposals. , said Ferris. “All of these other proposals were ultimately withdrawn, citing the city’s lack of ability to fund building upgrades, an inability to secure investments, or general concerns about the location’s ability to sustain demand,” said Ferris to city council in July.
These concerns of potential tenants may be well founded. Public records show that years ago the Hs Lordships building was appraised by construction engineering firm Kitchell Corporation, who estimated the cost of repairs at over $3 million, a figure that likely has increased since then. According to Kitchell, costs to replace the structure could exceed $21.4 million.
“The reality is that we have been trying seriously for four years to find the tenant, but we have not succeeded,” Arreguín said. “So I think we have a really exciting opportunity here at IPG, and we have to seize that opportunity. If we don’t succeed, we’ll have to start all over again.
“The reality is that the Marina Fund is facing financial challenges,” Arreguín said, and “the city’s general fund will have to keep the Marina Fund afloat for a little while while we look for other ways to generate more revenue. What are we looking at? The future of the waterfront.
Featured Image: Entrance to HS Lordships restaurant in Berkeley’s Marina Southpoint. October 17, 2022. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeley/ CatchLight