Biz incubator developers face backlash from residents

At April 25 public meeting, The Hatchery owners, Ald. Burnett faced blizzard of complaints

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The owners of a food business incubator under construction on the West Side have vowed to do more to include the public in the development amid complaints from residents and community leaders about what they considered to be the owners' insufficient community outreach efforts. 

The officials behind The Hatchery, which is currently being built on the southeast corner of Lake/Kedzie intersection in East Garfield Park, admitted during an April 25 community meeting that they could have done more to communicate their plans with area residents and said that they would be doing more public forums in the future.

Last week's meeting, formally called the Hatchery Update and Community Fair, was held at Jacob Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St., a block north of the food incubator site. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), along with Accion Chicago and the Industrial Council of Northwest Chicago — two of the owners of The Hatchery — co-hosed the meeting. 

Last Wednesday's meeting took place nearly two weeks after East Garfield Park resident Melvin Cox organized a community forum designed to give residents a chance to ask questions to the organizations involved with The Hatchery, but no officials involved with the development showed up.

For some in attendance at Cox's meeting, that absence was indicative of The Hatchery's insufficient efforts at community outreach throughout the development process.

On April 25, many of the residents who spoke at Cox's meeting reinforced arguments they had made at Cox's meeting, claiming that Ald. Burnett and The Hatchery developers didn't do nearly enough to reach out to the community and that the community benefits agreement that was approved as part of the site redevelopment agreement doesn't go far enough. 

Several speakers argued that the project was nothing more than a land grab that would only encourage gentrification and that if the organizations behind the Hatchery really wanted to help, they would support the businesses that were already there. 

The Hatchery grew out of the Industrial Council's desire to develop a business incubator specifically geared toward food-related businesses, something its existing business incubator at Hatchery Chicago, 320 N. Damen Ave., can't accommodate. The current incubator is being used as a temporary site for The Hatchery while the new building is being built. 

Hatchery's website lists three owners — Accion Chicago, the Industrial Council and IFF, a non-profit lender. But according to Accion Chicago CEO Brad McConnel, IFF is only staying on to help with the building's construction.

The April 25 event was billed as an opportunity to talk to Hatchery executives and Burnett, and to find out about Hatchery amenities and job opportunities — both in construction and with the small businesses that would move in once the food incubator is up and running. Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, which will be open year-round inside the building, participated in the meeting as well.

Angela Taylor, who heads the market, told the residents in attendance that she had apprehensions about Hatchery as well, especially since they were going to be using the lot the market had been using since it started.

"I was totally peeved off saying, 'How dare they come in here and take my lot,'" she said. "So I got into my quiet place and I was praying. And God speaks and He was saying, 'This is not about you. This is about the community.'"

Taylor said that she and her husband decided to sit down with The Hatchery owners to discuss how the community would benefit. She said that they knocked on doors within the four-block radius of the site and encouraged residents to attend an informational meeting.

Steve DeBretto, the Industrial Council's executive director, said that residents may benefit from The Hatchery's presence as an employer and a resource to area entrepreneurs.

"We want to help them start businesses and grow businesses and we want to help them connect [to] jobs," he said. "We have to make sure we have as many jobs as possible come to this neighborhood. It's not going to happen by itself. I'm not going to pretend it will. And we can do it together."

DeBretto said that the turnout at the April 25 meeting alone showed that ICNC and other organizations should have done more community outreach.

"There are a lot of people here that I haven't even met and that means we have a lot of work to do," he said. "And [we have to] make sure this whole thing is of [maximum] benefit for people on the West Side."

Priscilla Torrence, ICNC's director of workforce development, said that they are working with 18 West Side community organizations to ensure that residents of West and East Garfield Parks, as well as Austin, North Lawndale and West Humboldt Park, will have opportunities to apply for jobs.

"We're not going to say all those jobs are going to be from those communities, but we'll definitely make residents the preferred group of candidates," she said. "If you have any questions about workforce development, job training, resumes — that's what our partners are for. We will be able to refer you to somebody. We want to collaborate, not compete."

McConnel said that Accion Chicago wanted to move offices into the Hatchery — not because of some land grab, but because they wanted to be closer to the community where business loan services they provide were needed most.

"There is so much more we can do when we're physically present in the neighborhoods we serve," he said.

But what the officials said didn't satisfy many of the residents who spoke during the meeting. Vivian Stewart Tyler, who also spoke at Cox's forum, argued that the whole project was "pushed down our throats."

"We're tired of people coming in our community, telling us what we need and we don't benefit from," she said. "We don't want it. It was [done] the wrong way. People weren't notified correctly. So this needs to be quashed. We don't need handouts, we need immediate problem-solving."

Anette Britton, who lives less than a block southwest of The Hatchery lot, said that she tried to setup community meetings with local residents, but nothing came of it.

"If you work with people who supposedly represent our community and the community was not informed, you're working with the wrong people," she said. "The community needs to be represented."

An East Garfield Park resident who identified only as L. Aaron said that the community benefits agreement didn't go far enough, arguing that it should require The Hatchery and its owners to do much more for the community and its residents. She suggested adding a soup kitchen, a food pantry and a junior culinary school for area youth, as well as some form of profit-sharing.

McConnel responded by reiterating that Accion Chicago provides loans to all types of small businesses and that he thought a junior culinary school was actually a good idea. 

Several former 27th Ward aldermen criticized The Hatchery owners and Burnett. 

"The joke is, you're coming here, you don't knock on our door, you put Hatchery on here and tell us what we're going to need," said Wallace Davis, who was 27th Ward alderman from 1983 to 1987.

"We need to recognize, come together and hold all those accountable [who are supposed to] represent us," he said. "This is the biggest farce and biggest rip-off ever. We're going to hold you accountable for this one. You really have disjointed this community."

"I don't understand how you can build a $45 million project and not tell anybody down the street," said Dexter Watson, Ald. Burnett's immediate predecessor in the office. 

"You need to tear down what you've built and build it with people in the community. It's a big deal, because people from the community aren't benefiting from this," Watson added. "People who are already having businesses aren't being helped. All three of you – you're not doing it right. You really are hurting us. And until you do it the way it should be done, I don't think you need to do it all."

Ricky Hendon, who served a stint as 27th Ward alderman in the late 1980s before his election to the Illinois Senate, offered an equally caustic assessment of The Hatchery development.

"People are losing homes all over the area," he said. "Why not give a 100 businesses $80,000 so these businesses can survive?"

Several residents spoke in favor of the Hatchery, including one who said that she has been in the community long enough to remember the 1968 riots. She accused the Hatchery detractors of being selfish and pushing back against badly needed development.

"We have to do something on the West Side of Chicago to help the next generation," she said. "Stop thinking about yourself. Stop thinking 1960s, 1970s, 1990s. We should be thinking 2030. To come here complaining about development, and [at the same time] complaining about the lack of development —shame on us. I'm here for anything that's going to help the community."

Jerry Lewis, the owner of JLL Construction — one of the sub-contractors working on The Hatchery — said that his mother invented a sauce that was "stolen" by an investor. She could have benefited from advice and financial literacy classes The Hatchery will provide, Lewis said.

DeBretto and McConnel said that they would be doing "many, many" community meetings in the coming months. The Hatchery is scheduled for completion this December, they said.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com   

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