The question is: Should there be tables and chairs for the food cart customers and, if so, who should provide them?

EUGENE — Tables and chairs have become the focal point of the latest effort to revive Eugene's troubled downtown.

Over the years, the city of Eugene has gone back and forth over whether to set out temporary tables and chairs in the heart of downtown at the Broadway Plaza at East Broadway and Willamette Street. Last summer, the city removed them. And now that the city has allowed food carts to set up in the plaza, the tables-and-chairs issue is again on the table.

The question is: Should there be tables and chairs for the food cart customers and, if so, who should provide them?

Some cart owners say the city, which wants to revitalize the downtown, should help by providing the tables and chairs.

Other cart owners oppose that idea, saying that if the city provides the furniture, the vendors can't limit who would sit there. That could open the door to loiterers and other non-customers taking over the seating — something the Eugene Police Department opposes.

So as the experiment with the food carts proceeds, the cart owners are, for the time being, providing their own tables and seating.

The carts are D'lish, Raw Love, The Big Red Cart, Carte Blanche and Nosh Pit, and there's a scattering of vendor-provided tables and chairs in front of them.

Ferale Hubbard, owner and operator of Raw Love, which serves organic wraps and fresh squeezed juice, is in favor of the city providing tables and chairs. "We're really doing our part in reclaiming the square for positive activity," she said. "It would be a really great cooperation for the city to reward our efforts."

Having the city provide the tables and chairs would be a plus, some vendors say, because that would save vendors from having to haul the tables to and from the site every day. The city is allowing the vendors to keep their carts at the plaza overnight, but the carts are small and there's typically no space to store furniture in them.

"There's not a lot of room in my cart for storing tables and chairs overnight," Hubbard said, who transports her eatery materials by bike trailer. "It definitely would alleviate a lot of stress on my part."

But city-provided tables and chairs seemed to encourage intimidating and aggressive people to congregate at the plaza, police say.

Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick, who oversees officers who respond to downtown, said that while Broadway Plaza used to be a high-crime zone, now that the city's tables and chairs have been removed "the reported crime has dropped to almost nothing. It's very rare that we have problems there anymore."

Fitzpatrick described the atmosphere of the plaza when it had tables and chairs as intimidating and hostile to people who simply wanted to enjoy the outdoors while taking a lunch or coffee break. The city's tables and chairs were "a well-intentioned idea (but) they failed to take into account the unintended consequences," he said. "Groups of people who engaged in criminal and antisocial conduct came and controlled that area."

Fitzpatrick said he strongly opposes putting the tables and chairs back in the plaza.

"Before, I responded to fights, drug dealing, overdoses, right there on the plaza. Since we took the tables and chairs out, I haven't been back there once except to go down there and have lunch," he said.

Tom Kamis, owner of the Big Red Cart, which offers a variety of sandwiches, does not support city-owned seating because it would not allow him to control who sits there.

"In the past two years, it's been a place for homeless and drug dealers," he said, and some customers still don't feel comfortable.

Beth Little, who the city contracts with to manage the street carts, said cart owners are attempting to find the best approach. "We're in a real trial period, trying to navigate the right way to revitalize the (Eugene) core," she said.

From her work as general manager of Saturday Market, Little is well aware of the work required to move seating on a regular basis. "We're all in this together trying to figure it out," she said.

Little said that the dialogue between the city and cart owners highlights an ongoing problem that everyone is trying to address. "Every bench has been removed from Broadway — there's a bigger thing going on here," she said.

With or without city-owned tables and seating, the food carts are a plus for the downtown, most everyone agrees.

The food is "healthy and quick and they offer excellent customer service and some of the best food you will ever eat," Little said.

Lori Vik, who has worked downtown for six years, has seen the city-owned tables and chairs come and go over time.

"I always liked (the table and chairs) around here," said Vik.

"The more permanent ones looked so much nicer," Vik added as she sat at a vendor-owned table enjoying her lunch. "I would like it if there were more tables and chairs. It adds more options."