City Side Food Court is proposed by developer Steve Liautaud on a vacant lot at 64 Alfred St. in Biddeford. The lot would feature dining tables and 7 food trucks. This image is the developer’s conception of how it would look at night. Courtesy photo

BIDDEFORD — In recent years, Biddeford has become known as an interesting place to dine, as new restaurants spring up in the mills and downtown.

Soon, it could sport another offering — City Side Food Court where seven mobile food vendors would offer a variety of tasty specialties and diners could enjoy them, seated outside, at 64 Alfred St., a lot that has been vacant since a 2006 fire.

That is the concept proposed by Freddy LLC, a Maine company owned by former Chicago restaurant owner Steve Liautaud, who moved to Maine in 2006, and bought Harmon’s Clam Cakes, a company he sold in December 2019. Liautaud, said Biddeford Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy, has the lot under contract.

A developer is looking to open a 7-unit food court at a vacant lot on Alfred Street and has asked the city for an easement through two parking spaces in order to show required access to the property. Courtesy Photo

The proposal came to the City Council because to move forward, an approved site plan is required. In order to begin the approval process, Liautaud needs to be able to show access to the lot. Eddy told the council that the only option is through the city-owned parking lot, which would require an easement from the city and the loss of two parking spaces. Access through Alfred or Jefferson streets isn’t recommended because of the curb cuts that would be necessary, said Eddy. He noted the vacant property has been difficult to develop.

“Today’s food truck operators are formally trained chefs, testing and developing cutting edge concepts in well-designed kitchens on wheels,” Liautaud wrote in his proposal. “They are social media ninjas with loyal followings. They attract a wide variety of a desirable demographic which can only help the city’s mission to improve its image and grow. Our food court will piggyback on this momentum and instantly tap into their loyal tribes.”

As well as seven food vendors, a beer garden is included in the proposal.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the court would be converted into a small Chris Kringle Village and offer Christmas tree sales, local artisan crafts, roasted chestnuts, beer and brats, Liautaud wrote.

The venue would have restrooms.

According to Food Truck Nation, a report produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, food trucks were active in 300 U.S. cities in 2017, and generated $2.7 billion in revenue that year.

Seventeen miles down U.S.  Route 1 in Wells, Congdon’s After Dark operates what is billed as New England’s only food truck park. Open Thursday through Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m., the park sports up to 10 food trucks each night. Congdon’s After Dark, operated by Congdon’s Doughnuts Family Restaurant, began with three food trucks n 2017, and added a covered patio beer garden in 2018.

The City Council discussed the City Side Food Court proposal in a committee of the whole — a session where no formal votes are taken.

City Manager Jim Bennett said the easement is the only question for the City Council — other city departments deal with the permitting process — but he predicted other discussions would ultimately ensue.

“It will open discussion about mobile vendors” and appropriate locations downtown, Bennett said. “I think it is the beginning of a discussion the city will want to have in the near future.”

“I’m very much in favor of this. I think it’s a really cool idea,” said Councilor William Emhiser. He said he’d talked with an owner of a food business on Main Street who predicted a food court would draw more people into the city. “Two parking spaces to me is a small price to pay. I think this is a great idea.”

“I’m willing to consider an easement … to get their trucks in and out,” said Councilor Norman Belanger. He said he believes the city should consider licensing mobile food vendors.

The impact on businesses already in the area should be determined, Council President John McCurry said.

Councilor Amy Clearwater said she believes food trucks are often incubator space for someone who eventually plans to create a brick-and-mortar location.

The council talked about having the Downtown Development Commission and the Policy Committee explore food truck matters.

“My only concern is timing, he wanted to open on Memorial Day,” said Mayor Alan Casavant. “Every day (this is) delayed affects the bottom line which might actually affect the project. By going to multiple committees stretching that out.”

In the end, councilors discussed looking at the easement request, with parallel discussions at the committee level on mobile food truck matters to consider that could include licensing and location, among others.

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