DOWNTOWN — Out of all the parts that make up the Third Street Promenade, from the artists to retail carts to the merchants that line the strip, there’s one that’s been absent for the past few years.

That missing piece of the puzzle — food carts — is due to return this fall.

There was a time when shoppers on the promenade could grab a quick bite without stepping foot inside, buying a hot dog, shaved ice or donuts from different vendors who dotted the outdoor mall.

While the retail mobiles have remained since, their partners in food have not been present on the city’s busiest commercial corridor since 2006 when cart operator Provenzano Resources Inc. (PRI) began redesigning the food cart program.

“We’re hoping that we can be underway pretty soon,” Deborah Kravitz, a partner in PRI, said. “It’s taken a bit longer than we thought.”

The reason for the delay can be attributed to the overhaul in state health regulations for permitting food carts in 2007, which forced PRI to make a number of changes to its proposal.

The Los Angeles County Health Department in December 2006 approved PRI’s commissary, which is the offsite food prep and cart storage facility located in the basement of Parking Structure 2, allowing the company to move forward with the next step in the process — getting each of the carts permitted by the state.

But just as PRI was about to submit its application, the state introduced new permitting guidelines, which included changes in areas like food transport and preparation. As a result, Kravitz had to go back to the drawing board and create a new set of designs for the carts to meet new requirements.

Kravitz said the carts have gone through several design changes since the new regulations and that each version takes about two months to complete.

Under the new regulations, some old faces on the promenade might not be able to return, including hot dog vendors.

“Any new hot dog use has to go in a truck because you need three compartment sinks with certain sizes and a handwash sink and you’re not allowed to cook (at the cart),” Kravitz said. “A lot of the uses are much more restricted because of the size of our carts and what we built and the size of the commissary.”

Kravitz said she gets at least one application from a hot dog vendor every week.

The new food carts will match the design of their retail counterparts, having the same exterior but holding stainless steel sinks and compartments instead. After the state approves the carts, each food vendor will also be required to get their own set of permits.

She blames part of the delay on herself because of recent personnel changes and vacations that have pushed the timetable back.

Kravitz said she is planning to have the carts ready to go by November.

There will be three food carts, one for each block of the promenade.

Patricia Hoffman, who serves on the board of directors for the Bayside District Corp., which manages Downtown, said there’s been some concern about the absence of the carts, which offer an affordable alternative for shoppers.

“I think it’s disappointing it hasn’t happened but I don’t think there’s anybody to blame for it,” she said. “I just think that the circumstances have made that not happen and it’s really too bad because it’s definitely something that is missing from our cart program.”

The program should not see any disruption from City Hall’s renovations of the parking structures in Downtown. Structure 2, which is located on Second Street between Wilshire Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, is expected to be seismically upgraded. The project isn’t expected to affect the commissary, Miriam Mack, the director of economic development, said.

Rob Rader, who serves on the Bayside board, said the food cart program will supplement other activities on the promenade, especially in areas that could use a little more attention.

He added that the carts should not be placed in close proximity to other snack areas, pointing out that a pretzel vendor should not be located near Wetzel’s Pretzels.

“To offer a service that isn’t duplicating something we already have will keep the activity feel on the promenade consistent so you won’t see dead areas,” Rader said. “Dead areas are a problem because it attracts antisocial behavior and that self perpetuates.”

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