ENGLEWOOD — A proposed business innovation center in Englewood is turning to the Illinois Institute of Technology for help with its design.
Kyeo Lee, 26, and four other architecture students are working on an independent study with architect Monica Chadha, who is the founder of Civic Projects, LLC and an adjunct professor at IIT. The other architect on the project is Michael Newman, of Shed Studio. They are designing the space for what could be the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation’s business accelerator.
The organization invited the business community to a presentation last week at its office, 815 W. 63rd St., which was put on by the design team. Business owners were able to ask questions and offer suggestions.
“We don’t do projects with presumptions, we really want community meetings like this to get the people who are going to be using the space together to talk about the needs, and as we begin to understand the needs, we can begin to develop a space that’s appropriate as opposed to guessing,” Chadha said.
Greater Englewood CDC has developed a proposal for a business innovation center similar to the Blue 1647 Tech Innovation Center in Pilsen. Greater Englewood CDC has proposed turning the annex of the U.S. Bank, 63rd and Halsted, into a commercial kitchen and business accelerator.
Group officials said they were in the process of negotiating with the bank over leasing or buying the annex building. U.S. Bank officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The center would offer business owners a place to hold meetings, make phone calls, make prints and more. There will also be a workforce development component.
“We’re going to offer you the resources you need to make your business grow,” said Glen Fulton, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Once we get you to the point where you can get out on your own, we’re encouraging you to do that, we don’t want you to stay here forever.”
The U.S. Bank building is a city of Chicago Historic Landmark, but the annex, a former furniture store, is not a landmark. Fulton said that he is negotiating with U.S. Bank to either buy or lease the property.
Business owners said they are eager to see the business accelerator open. While he negotiates over the annex space, Fulton wants to open the accelerator temporarily in an unused 1,600-square-foot space in the main U.S. Bank building on the fourth floor, near his group's office.
If he gets ownership of the annexed building from the bank and the city approves his development proposal, the business accelerator would later move to a larger space.
The IIT students will also help design the temporary business accelerator, which is set to open by early May.
Fulton said that it is important for the businesses using the accelerator to be comfortable, which is why the design team carefully listened to their ideas, jotting everything down on a large easel at the front of the room.
Lee, who is in his senior year at IIT and lives in Mt. Prospect, said it was great to work directly with the clients.
“While we’re organizing our thoughts, we’re thinking what would they want in the space, and by getting to talk to the clients, we won’t have to ask ourselves, what if they don’t like it because there is no doubt,” he said. “We heard their stories and got their feedback,” Lee said.
Each business owner was given a sheet and they could decide on how much of the space they wanted to be an open or closed space. They discussed movable furniture that transforms from one thing to another, like a chair into a table. Privacy came up and one person suggested telephone booths.
Privacy is what Eugene Shelby, co-owner of Eco Green Urban Solutions, said he desperately needs. The South Shore resident works from home and said business calls can be difficult at times with two young sons in the house. Sometimes he has to step into the coat closet or sit in his car, he said.
Michael Wilson — a sales associate with Ambassador Organics, a tea and coffee company founded by former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun — needs space to meet with clients for presentations. Wilson has a private office, but he said that it’s good to have additional and larger options. He suggested lots of open space and conference rooms to the design team.
“Right now, when we make presentations, we either go to the potential buyer or the buyer comes to our office, but with this incubator, I would be able to invite them here,” he said, adding that the atmosphere would be “friendlier.”
“I think the chances of closing a deal are greater in an environment like this,” said Wilson.
The founder of Blue 1647, Emile Cambry Jr., said that these incubators are important for communities with a high unemployment because it offers them the resources and space needed to start a business.
“There’s a lot of money being invested [downtown] but it’s important we have the same things like access and opportunities in our communities,” he said.
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