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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mayor's new public vending program touts lower costs and more regulations, excludes Five Points

WORK NOT WELFARE: President of Atlanta Vendor Association Larry Miller (third from left) led a protest in the shadow of the Final Four festivities.
  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • 'WORK NOT WELFARE': President of Atlanta Vendor Association Larry Miller (third from left) led a protest in the shadow of the Final Four festivities.

After months of legal filings, protests, and delays, Mayor Kasim Reed's office yesterday revealed its plan to overhaul Atlanta's vending program.

Deputy Chief Operating Officer Hans Utz presented the city's proposal yesterday during the Atlanta City Council's public safety committee meeting. He said the program, which the mayor's office had previously promised to unveil before the year's end, would better regulate vending on public property, streamline permit enforcement, and define specific locations where goods can be sold.

City Hall has largely prevented street retailers from hawking t-shirts, souvenirs, and a variety of other goods since last December when Fulton County Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua ripped up the controversial contract former Mayor Shirley Franklin signed with Chicago-based General Growth Properties, effectively outsourcing public vending to the private company.

Since the judge's 2012 ruling, city officials have been concocting the new plan. But that's kept many vendors in limbo and unable to legally sell items on Atlanta's sidewalks throughout 2013. LaGrua earlier this month ordered the city to issue permits under its prior ordinance. Reed said the decision would be appealed. Meanwhile, Utz says some vendors contributed recommendations to the city's vending program.

The new policy, which once approved should put some vendors back to work, restricts what kinds of items can be sold on the city's streets. Those include: weather-related items (hats, ponchos, umbrellas, etc.); "non-explicit" published materials (books, newspapers, magazines, etc.), toiletries, over-the-counter medicine, cell-phone accessories, flowers, Atlanta-themed souvenirs, and officially licensed sports merchandise. It'll also allow the sale of packaged foods, heated foods, and non-alcoholic beverages from select carts whose operators comply with county health laws.

According to Utz, the city's vending overhaul would be phased-in, starting with 19 Downtown kiosks near Woodruff Park, Centennial Olympic Park, and Georgia State University and 12 sites near South Downtown and West End. Fifty additional vending locations would then be added to the program along with increased access to food trucks in the public right-of-way.

The city's office of revenue, now responsible for handling the entire permitting process, would charge applicants a $75 fee per application. Approved vendors would also pay a $2,500 annual maintenance charge for using the city's kiosk locations. Utz says those prices are significantly lower than previous ones, which included a $150 permit application fee and private kiosks that cost vendors upwards of $20,000 each year to rent.

The program would allow past vendors who are in "good standing" with the city to return to where they once sold goods - except for outside the Five Points MARTA station, once the epicenter for Atlanta's Downtown vending scene and a sore point for neighborhood boosters. The remaining kiosks would be awarded through a lottery.

Vendors would only be allowed to sell goods in official kiosks or carts - bye, bye skirted tables - and required to properly display permits and licenses. They would also be required to use a point-of-sale system - for example, Square or some other program that could plug into a smartphone or tablet - that's capable of tracking sales to track if taxes were properly paid. To ensure code compliance, the Atlanta Police Department's license and permits unit would be primarily tasked with oversight.

In a statement, Reed said the new program would offer "what's best for our public spaces."

"We have a real responsibility to ensure we have a program in place that meets the needs and interests of our citizens, and of our vendors," Reed said.

Atlanta Vendor Association President Larry Miller, one of the street vendors who filed the lawsuit that led to the GGP contract being torn up and who has staged several rallies protesting Reed's stance toward vendors, commended the city's effort to overhaul the program. But he wanted the program changed to include vendors who operate throughout the city - not just ones who operated carts and kiosks located in specific districts.

"All vendors were put out of work at the same time," Miller said at the meeting. "All vendors should be put back to work at the same time."

The proposal will now head to Monday's Council meeting for a full vote. But expect some final, and possibly heated, discussions around a vote that could close the books on what's been a tumultuous issue at City Hall.

NOTE: The mayor's current proposal does not include vending locations at Turner Field during the program's initial roll out. We've updated the story to reflect that information.

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