Leading up to the second What the Truck?! taking place on September 16, 2011, we will be posting about some of the stumbling blocks we faced in organizing the first event. Today, I will discuss how the location of What the Truck?! came to be.
The ideal venue for What the Truck?! in our minds was a parking lot. What better way to repurpose those single-use eyesores than to fill them with people, animating an otherwise empty space downtown? After some scouting, we identified two lots that we thought would work, both in terms of location and size.
Option one already had precedence for alternative uses – the Melcor-owned lot on 104 Street, between the Great West Saddlery Building and the Armstrong Block had been used for Al Fresco events. Given Melcor’s enthusiasm for Todd Babiak’s Interventions project involving the beautification of a parkade wall, we thought they might be more than open to our idea. When we met with a Melcor staff person, however, because we weren’t attached to a charity, the answer was no. The lot was leased out to monthly parking pass holders, and in order to justify taking away that paid privilege, they needed a good excuse. We were aghast, if only because we live on the street, and know that the lot sits completely empty most nights (we should mention that for What the Truck?! 2, Melcor has allowed us to use their privately owned park).
Option two, a lot between the Jasper 105 Dental building and building that houses Pub 1905, had a similar feel to the Melcor lot because it was also enclosed on two sides, and was equally accessible. We contacted Precise Park Link who manages the lot, and on our behalf, they asked the owners of the lot (who happened to be the same dental folks) whether or not they would be amenable to What the Truck?! renting out the space for the evening. They said no. The kicker was the fact that the dental office is closed on Friday afternoons anyway – so they really had no good reason to turn us down.
At that point, we decided to consider public, City-owned spaces. Although Churchill Square is the “natural” fit for a food-related event, we wanted to buck the trend. Everything happens in Churchill Square, to the point where it is almost cliché. Besides, we felt Churchill Square was much too big and impersonal for What the Truck?!
We first considered Centennial Square, the tumbleweed-inducing concrete pad behind the Stanley Milner Library. Equipped with a stage and easy access, we remembered the space being used as a part of the Grey Cup festivities back in November. Liaising with the Civic Events office, we found out that because of the parkade underneath, the surface wasn’t structurally sound to support the weight of vehicles. For the Grey Cup tents, we were told, the event planners had to work with engineers to distribute the weight safely. Well, without engineers on our non-existent payroll (and for an event all about trucks), we were out of luck.
Last on our list was Beaver Hills House Park, on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue. It’s in a great location, accessible by public transit and highly visible, both for those passing by on foot and in vehicles. It’s also framed by both residential and commercial towers (which would be a boon for attendance on a Friday evening), and had built-in seating in the form of grassy knolls and park benches. It’s definitely an underutilized space, and with the talk about the need for more green space in the core (with another park development in the works for 105 Street and 102 Avenue) we thought What the Truck?! would be a great way for people to realize one of the fantastic assets that already exists in the core.
In spite of some logistical difficulties we faced loading the trucks into Beaver Hills, it ended up being a great location for the first event. For What the Truck?! 2, we again looked for a location downtown, but this time, wanted to avoid the issues with a raised concrete pad. That meant closing a street for curbside cuisine!