Temporary program gets vendors working

As a child, I remember seeing the “broom man” make his way through the streets of Vine City, peddling his wares. He was blind, and peddling was his privilege.

As an older youth, I recall buying ice cold Cokes and M&M candies outside the Five Points MARTA station, not from a machine but from a decorated Vietnam veteran known for his fiery oratory.

During the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta showcased the best and the worst concepts of public vending for the world to see.

In 2009, General Growth Properties (GGP) — a company specializing in the management of shopping malls — was brought in to run vending on our public streets. Hailed as the solution to problems plaguing public vending, GGP’s contract was thrown out by a Fulton County Superior Court judge in late 2012 after vendors sued. And in March 2013, the program was abruptly and effectively shut down, leaving some 40 hard-working Atlantans unemployed.

The temporary vending program that I have proposed is just that — temporary. Until we receive a final vending program proposal from Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, this legislation will allow all vendors who had active permits in 2012, including those formerly located at Five Points, to continue to work, move to kiosk locations and return to Turner Field.

We frankly do not know what the administration will recommend in its new vending concept. But I believe it is important for vendors to be employed while the proposal, one which the City Council has been waiting for since last fall, is finalized.

The legislation does not include the Five Points/Underground area because of protracted public safety and enforcement issues that created an atmosphere that negatively impacted residents, local businesses and visitors. Couple this with the fall of Underground, and the Five Points area had evolved into a situation not unlike the street bazaar in the opening scene of the movie “Casablanca.”

Whether it was indifference by the police, mayor’s office, City Council or surrounding business organizations is debatable, for surely there is enough blame to go around. But everyone agrees the situation was intolerable.

Yet there should be public vending in Atlanta, and we need to move deliberately toward solutions.

The entrepreneurial spirit that made Atlanta famous for being a city too busy to hate; dared to build the Atlanta-Fulton County stadium without yet having a baseball or NFL franchise, and pursued and achieved an Olympic dream that solidified Atlanta as an international city, is the same spirit that inspires these vendors to daily take to the streets and sell their wares.

It is incumbent upon the city to support these dreams, regardless of their size. Opportunity is the oxygen that fuels the flame of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial legacy, and it is our obligation to provide access to that opportunity.

Michael Julian Bond is a member of the Atlanta City Council.