ENGLEWOOD — Stephanie Robinson makes her Bath Scents Handcrafted Soaps products as a side job in her South Side home.
What the 61-year-old Bronzeville resident would like to do is to grow the business and get the manufacturing out of her house.
A pair of proposed projects in Englewood — a public kitchen and "innovation center" — could help her and others looking to take the next step in expanding their businesses.
The Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation is negotiating to open the facilities aimed at helping emerging entrepreneurs in a former furniture store at 63rd and Halsted streets.
“I'm very grateful because this will be the first chance I have really had to venture out into a large arena, and I'm excited about it,” said Robinson.
Glen Fulton, executive director of the development corporation, envisions the two development projects to be built next door to the U.S. Bank Building, using the first floor and basement.
The proposed kitchen would be a 3,000-plus-square-foot, full-service, licensed commercial kitchen, with shared spaces and industrial equipment. Caterers, specialty food-makers and young chefs could use the kitchen, which would be available by the day or hour.
The development corporation also has developed a high-tech kitchen innovation classroom, with meeting space and offices, that would host food service training.
Organizers are looking for funding of $1.3 million to $2.5 million from local tax increment financing districts. Between $750,000 and $1.25 million in kitchen equipment would be funded by Whole Foods Market, Chicago City Colleges, Chicago Culinary Institute and and Chicagoland Commercial Kitchens. They also hope to take advantage of new market tax credits for working in a low-income community.
With the new Whole Foods opening sometime next year, Fulton said this will be a great opportunity for those businesses selected as vendors for the store to use the innovation kitchen.
Rachel Bernier-Green, 27, agreed. Last month, Whole Foods Market selected her baked goods to be stocked on its shelves. Right now she bakes her treats in a kitchen on the Near West Side because her Kenwood home isn’t big enough.
If the development is approved, the kitchen wouldn’t open until the spring of 2016, which wouldn't immediately work for Bernier-Green.
Still, she said, “in that community it would be very helpful because there really aren’t many kitchen spaces.”
The second part of the project is a 6,200-square-foot entrepreneurship and technology business incubator for the lower level. The development corporation has partnered with BLUE 1647, a job training nonprofit, to create an innovation center that would offer classes and workshops, workforce development training, business acceleration and economic development in technology.
“What we’re doing is building an infrastructure. Everything we’re doing is tangible, you can touch it, you can see it, you can feel, nothing we’re talking about is visionary,” Fulton said.
The development corporation is looking to U.S. Bank, which owns the property, for permission to open the two projects.
Fulton is confident that his proposals will get approved in an upcoming meeting with U.S. Bank, but because the process could take awhile, another effort will launch sooner: The Blue 1647 Englewood Business Accelerator will begin within the next 45 to 60 days at an undisclosed site, he said.
The development corporation has another proposal for a community cafe. It would serve breakfast and lunch and offer customers coffee and baked goods. Fulton said it would have a dual role: Serve the community and function as a meeting location for business owners.
Fulton said that he and the late Ald. JoAnn Thompson, who died earlier this month, shared the same vision.
He said these development plans will help make Englewood a destination spot once again.
“I remember this area as a child; I remember how it used to be,” Fulton said, who still lives in the community. “I think [this project] is one that will rebrand, rebuild and revitalize Englewood, and I’m hopeful we can make this happen.”
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