From food to fitness, business activity on the rise in Seattle parks

Interest in commercial activities in Seattle parks has grown over the past decade. (Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation)

You’ve probably thought about grabbing a sandwich from a food truck or renting a paddle board at one of Seattle’s public parks, but booking a grooming session for the family dog? Not so fast – unless, of course, you go to Magnuson Park during the warmer months of the year when it’s possible to have fido clipped and bathed by a mobile Dog Hair Don’t Care groomer after a play session in the park without a leash. The company is one of a growing number of new business ventures operating in Seattle’s public parks through its Vendor Authorization Program.

To ensure that the city’s governance rules more accurately reflect current permitting practices and better communicate park sales opportunities to the public, Seattle Parks and Recreation asked the city council to amend the City Code of the city. The motion was unanimously approved on Wednesday February 2 by the Public Property and Homelessness Committee, putting it to a vote by council.

Seattle Parks hopes the amended wording will help continue the increase in business activity in the parks, a trend Seattle Parks staff have cited as on the rise even before the Covid pandemic put dining in a new spotlight. and outdoor recreation. During their presentation to the Board, Acting Superintendent Chris Williams noted that when aligned with the department’s values ​​of “healthy people, healthy environment and strong communities”, business activities are encouraged. in public parks because of the activation they provide and the revenue they generate.

In 2021, more than 80 short-term sales licenses were issued to sellers offering many different services. Seattle Parks staff said it was important to continue to limit permits to one year to ensure access for a variety of different businesses and groups. Continuous permit review also allows Seattle Parks staff to match vendors with parks that best meet their needs and avoid competing interests.

Screenshot of a smiling man wearing glasses speaking during an online Seattle City Council meeting.
Chris Williams, acting superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation. (Credit: Seattle Channel)

The Seattle Parks Vendor Licensing Program serves as an important incubator for small businesses, especially for people who have traditionally been underrepresented in entrepreneurship. The department estimates that 80% of vendors who receive permits identify as a woman-owned or minority-owned business (W/MBE). “We absolutely recognize that these small sales contracts are an economic driver for the community and we regularly post calls for tenders (requests for proposals) encouraging people to apply,” Williams said.

Beginning in 2023, the importance will increase in the future as more opportunities open up through the nearly $20 million in Economic Resilience from the JumpStart Seattle Payroll Tax. Board Member Teresa Mosequeda (At-Large), who sponsored the JumpStart Seattle legislation, highlighted how, during its implementation planning process, the Board considered some of these funds being used for this purpose. end.

“We made it clear that we wanted some of the funds to go towards park activation – to go to cultural spaces and opportunities for people to sell food,” Mosequeda said. “We can have a 2023 plan that spans the next 18 years to really activate the parks and create more food vendor opportunities and additional resources to help make that vision possible.”

Current Permit Fees and Fee Waiver Pilot Projects

Based on data available on the Seattle Parks website, vendors must pay a $75 permit fee for each park they operate in. Additional monthly concession fees apply, which vary by park and are divided into three tiers. The most expensive monthly concession fees are paid by providers operating in Tier 1 parks, for example Westlake Park and Alki Beach Park, during peak months. These vendors pay $600 per month in fees, unlike vendors at Tier 3 parks, who pay $150 during peak months.

A chart outlining monthly permit fee rates at Tier 1, 2 and 3 parks.
(Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation, 2022)

But Seattle Parks also piloted a fee waiver program in an effort to bring authorized sellers to underutilized parks. Last year, the pilot operated at South Park Plaza, a community space that had yet to be built. Neighborhood residents were able to visit a weekly community farmers market or buy treats from vendors on other days. Although it was a great success, the construction of the plaza will eventually bring the activities to a halt – at least until the park is finished. Seattle Parks also experimented last year with mobile vending opportunities for women and minority-owned business owners in underserved parks in Southeast Seattle and activating food trucks in parks around the downtown. We can expect more pilots in the future.

A presentation slide features three park vendors, Latoya Funtastic, Mike's Boot Camp, and Blackstar Kebab
Some examples of Seattle Parks and Recreation vendors. (Credit: Seattle Parks and Recreation)

Sales licenses are awarded through competitive bidding. Requests for seasonal food and beverage concessions and other Commercial activities are managed by separate permit pools. Occasionally, park-specific tenders are issued when the ministry sees a lack of supplier interest in certain park locations or if facilities are available, as is the case this year for the Madrone Beach concession stand. When awarding permits to vendors, Seattle Parks staff said they need to consider a variety of considerations. For example, a few parks, such as Golden Gardens, have long-term concession or service contracts in place, making it inappropriate to allow competing vendors on site. Amy Hamaker, who works on contracts and permits for Seattle Parks, explained how her office considers potential impacts to the surrounding neighborhood in its decision-making.

“We try to activate spaces that aren’t already in use or don’t have amenities nearby,” Hamaker said. “For example, we try to be deliberate about the placement of fitness activities. We don’t want the neighbors complaining about a six o’clock bootcamp. But overall we get a lot of compliments on park activities.

According to Seattle Parks staff, most complaints were about unauthorized sales instead of permitted commercial activities, and Superintendent Williams sees increasing “legitimate positive uses” as a solution to discourage commercial activities that may not Be consistent with department values, especially in underutilized spaces. where they might go unnoticed for longer periods.

Recently, there has been renewed interest in holding educational activities in parks. Tinkergarten is an example of a business offering educational and fun outdoor activities for young children at various Seattle Parks locations.

General consensus around commercial activities in parks

The only council member to raise concerns at the meeting was Public Assets and Homelessness Committee Chair Andrew Lewis (District 7), who explained that some community members asked him to mention ” concern over the over-commercialization of public spaces”. “We want to make sure [parks] stay for recreation, contemplation and recreation,” Lewis said.

By reiterating that permitted commercial uses were selected based on their alignment with Seattle Parks values, department staff seemed to allay that concern. They also stressed that the change request they were making to the council should not increase permits or business activity, which has been on the rise for more than a decade at this point. “The purpose of these changes is to clarify and update. We feel its good governance to make the law understandable. The authorization process will remain robust and inclusive,” Hamaker said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) also operates a street vending permit program for operators who operate within the right-of-way. Sales permits can cost anywhere from $200 to $3,000 or more, depending on location and duration. Seattle Parks staff noted that they are looking to partner with other entities such as SDOT, Washington Food Truck Association, King County, Seattle Public Libraries as they oversee business activities at the parks. so that activities integrate seamlessly with other community activation and development efforts.

Seattle Parks and Recreation is accepting Seasonal Vendor Permit applications through March 3, 2022. Learn more here.


Chief Editor

Natalie Bicknell Argerious (her) is the editor of The Urbanist. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she enjoys learning how to make cities more inclusive, dynamic and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle’s Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email natalie [at] the town planner [dot] org.

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