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BY LORENZO LIGATO | While Occupy Wall Street’s attempt to pitch tents in the privately owned, fenced-in space in Duarte Square may have failed, the longed-for lot at Canal St. and Sixth Ave. is now occupied by food-vending carts and trucks — at least, for the summer.
Starting May 15, LentSpace — the open lot owned by Trinity Wall Street and leased for use to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for its artistic programming — has been occupied by food trucks and performing artists during lunchtimes.
The lot entered the media spotlight last November, thanks to the antibank Occupy movement. After losing their home base at Zuccotti Park in November, Occupy Wall Street protesters set their sights on turning LentSpace into their fallback encampment. But Trinity refused to let O.W.S. use the Duarte Square lot, saying the property lacked necessary facilities and was potentially unsafe for large assemblies.
This summer, every Tuesday through Thursday, from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., a rotating convoy of six food trucks parked inside the lot will be providing hungry Downtown lunchers with a variety of meal options, from Valducci’s Sicilian-style pizza to Chinese Mirch’s Indo-Chinese hybrid recipes, to Coolhaus’s ice cream sandwiches.
In addition to the food truck court, the LentSpace project is offering live music, dance and art. So far, performances on the LentSpace stage have seen the likes of guitarist Jason Green, Stefanie Nelson Dancegroup and boogaloo specialist DJ Turmix. Thursday will feature Concrete Justice, an acting troupe of homeless and formerly homeless people.
The food court and free performances are sponsored by L.M.C.C., along with the NYC Food Truck Association, Trinity and the Hudson Square Connection local business improvement district.
“The LentSpace collaboration is a response to the evolving needs of the Hudson Square neighborhood,” L.M.C.C. President Sam Miller said of the fast-expanding district that, he added, daily attracts more than 50,000 workers and visitors. “This is as an opportunity to provide this burgeoning community with access to an inspiring and relaxing space amidst a busy urban setting, complete with local artists’ performances and a variety of tempting locally sourced foods.”
LentSpace is scheduled to be open to the public through Oct. 15. The convening of the food trucks in the lot represents an attempt to relocate them from the streets, and is a response to complaints from local residents and merchants, according to a First Police Precinct source. With virtually no place for the food trucks to park legally in the area, the vehicles’ presence caused excessive crowding on the sidewalks of Hudson and King Sts. and sparked a “food fight” between the trucks and local restaurant and deli owners.
“LentSpace is the first step in the process of balancing the very real concerns of the brick-and-mortar restaurants with the desire of employees to have food choices,” said Ellen Baer, president of the Hudson Square Connection BID. “The activation of LentSpace has been a success across the board, especially for the thousands of office workers in the neighborhood who want an outdoor lunch location.”
First Precinct community affairs officers agreed with Baer that the food truck haven has alleviated the issues formerly caused when they parked on the street. So far, it seems to be working pretty well, they said.
Food truck owners responded enthusiastically to L.M.C.C.’s project. Among the several vendors interested in selling in the Duarte Square lot, 18 were selected through a lottery drawing by the food truck association.
“The food trucks are at L.M.C.C. LentSpace in Hudson Square to provide an amenity to residents and office workers in the district,” said David Weber, who heads the food truck association.
“The cultural programming of dance, art and music by L.M.C.C. and the Hudson Square Connection works in tandem with the wide variety of food offered by the N.Y.C.F.T.A. food trucks to enliven and activate the L.M.C.C. LentSpace. The result is a vibrant lunchtime hub for the local community,” he said.
The food truck court, so far, has been a success, agreed the vendors.
The Eddie’s Pizza truck has been roaming the streets of Manhattan for more than a year before reaching the Duarte Square lot. Now, every Thursday, the shiny, fire-engine-red truck sells its thin-crust pizza pies to a small army of eager Hudson Square lunchers.
“We like to be at spots with other food trucks and make it a ‘place to go’ for the community,” said Debbie Jones, who manages the vehicle.
From a big, bright blue truck, Kelvin Slush mixes spicy ginger-flavored frozen beverages and other refreshing all-natural slushies. Opened for business in July 2010, the truck will be parked at LentSpace every Tuesday this summer, said Alex Rein, the slushie company’s founder.
“Because of all the challenges with parking, it is really nice to have a place to go and park where we are welcome and we know we won’t get a ticket or be forced to move,” Rein noted. “We think that food-truck lots like this may be the future of street vending in New York City, so we are happy to support the NYC Food Truck Association and help develop this location.”
As word of the food trucks lot is spreading, Rein added, the lunch crowds are becoming bigger and bigger every week.
“We are very happy with the turnout so far and we only expect it to get better,” he said.
Daily updates on the food trucks and live events and performances at L.M.C.C. LentSpace can be found on the lot’s Twitter, https://twitter.com/#!/HdsnSqFoodTruck .