The developer behind a planned food hall in Miami has asked state regulators whether it can offer pre-paid “Market Cards” for use by customers who don’t want to pull out their debit or credit cards.
Time Out Market Miami will be an offshoot of U.K.-based Time Out Group, which publishes entertainment guides and operate a similar food hall in Lisbon, with New York and the Miami debuts scheduled later this year, and more in the works elsewhere.
The 17,500-square-foot Miami food hall will feature local chefs including Jeremy Ford, Jose Mendin, Maria Orantes, and Alberto Cabrera.
There will be 17 kitchens in all, plus three bars, an art space, and a demonstration kitchen within the Lincoln Road complex. Vendors will offer food, drink, T-shirts, and souvenirs to the public.
“This format allows guests to explore and sample a variety of dishes from the surrounding kitchens, and family and friends come together to enjoy their meals at communal tables in the center of the market,” spokesman Alexandra Rieck said via email.
Through attorney Thomas Kearney, of the Akerman law firm’s Washington, D.C., office, the company wrote to the Florida Department of Financial Regulation on Aug. 31 seeking a declaratory statement that its plan for the payment cards would be legal.
“The company will enter into contracts with each concessionaire to act as the concessionaire’s agent for receiving payment from customers using Market Cards,” the letter says.
“The company will also issue receipts to customers who purchase Market Cards from it, indicating payment to the company is deemed to be payment to the concessionaires.”
Customers could use cash or credit or debit cards at Time Out-operated bars. Concessionaires could also accept the usual forms of plastic, but not cash. Instead, the company wants to offer the pre-paid cards as an alternative.
Customers could load no more than $1,000 per day on the cards.
“If customers prefer not to use their debit or credit cards (to avoid any international banking fees for example), then they will have the alternative option to use a pre-paid card using cash which will be accepted universally across the market” Rieck said.
“The card would allow guests to easily and conveniently explore and sample the different dishes from all the kitchens in the market,” she said.
“That said, we can’t say our proposed market card is novel or unusual. It is similar to standard gift cards in many respects. But we understand that state laws are crafted to address each community’s unique needs and we want to be completely clear on how Florida views the issue.”
One question is whether these cards would qualify as “payment instruments” requiring a state license.
“The company’s core business is operating food halls. If it is required to obtain a license it would incur the upfront and ongoing expenses necessary to satisfy the regulatory obligations imposed on licensees,” the letter says.
“If it elects not to obtain the license, it would exclude consumers who do not have access to banking or mainstream credit services and would likely lose customers who do not wish to use a debit or credit card. Either approach would substantially affect the company’s Florida operations.”
The company believes the cards wouldn’t qualify, since they would be redeemable only by Time Out, and only within “a closed loop of restaurant vendors … all of which are located in the same physical location,” the letter says.
“We can imagine circumstances where an issuer seeking to evade the law could offer trivial merchandise or services to fit within the exclusionary language. But that is not the case here.”
Furthermore, Time Out would accept no compensation from use of the cards, neither by customers or concessionaires.
“The company would issue Market Cards only as an accommodation for those customers who do not have access to banking or mainstream credit services or do not wish to use debit or credit cards,” the letter says.
“The company will be compensated by selling beverages and souvenirs at its bars and charging concession fees to its concessionaires. The company’s issuance of Market Cards redeemable for meals would be strictly incidental to the operation of the food hall and not for compensation.”
Another question is whether Time Out would qualify as a “money transmitter” — an entity that transfers funds for a fee. The letter argues that it would not, since it would collect money only to compensate its vendors for sales using the cards.
“Further, it would not be possible to use the Market Card to move money to any person other than a concessionaire,” the letter says.