During an April 14 community meeting, held at Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St., West Side residents and community leaders expressed concerns about the outreach efforts of the three entities that own The Hatchery — a food business incubator currently under construction at the southeast corner of Kedzie Avenue and Lake Street in East Garfield Park. 

All of the residents who spoke during the meeting, which was attended by roughly 40 to 50 people, said that they were worried about how the $30 million, 67,000-square-foot development might affect their neighborhood. Many also argued that The Hatchery’s public outreach was limited and felt like the project was being imposed on them by outside organizations. 

The recurring theme of the comments was that resources should be directed toward businesses that are already in the community — not outside entities. And if businesses or organizations had to come from the outside, residents added, they should at least be black-owned. 

“If you get a grant for betterment of this community, let’s work with this community and development some of the businesses here or development African American businesses to come to serve us,” said West Side resident Vivian Stewart-Tyler. 

Emblematic of residents’ concerns was that the three owners — Accion Chicago, Industrial Council Northwest Chicago and nonprofit developer IFF — appeared to have pulled out of the April 14 meeting without any explanation. 

The Hatchery grew out of the Industrial Council’s desire to develop a business incubator designed specifically to help develop food-related start-up enterprises. The Hatchery is currently located at the Industrial Council’s business incubator in West Town. 

The new East Garfield Park food incubator, which is scheduled to open in the fall, will support start-ups in the food industry by providing them with various resources, including shared kitchen space that incubator members can rent out. According to city officials, the incubator is expected to create up to 900 jobs in its first five years. 

But whether or not West Side residents access those jobs and benefit from The Hatchery’s presence could depend on community outreach efforts that are lacking, some residents say. 

Melvin Cox, the East Garfield Park banker and consultant who helped organize the April 14 meeting, said that the three Hatchery owners pulled out of the meeting roughly three weeks before it happened. 

They have, however, teamed up with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) to host a Hatchery Update and Opportunity Fair event at Jacob Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St., on April 25 at 6 p.m. 

Representatives for the Hatchery owners, along with Ald. Burnett, could not be reached for comment over the weekend. Cox said that Burnett, who was also absent, had been invited to the meeting as well, but had not responded to the invitation.

“I feel that the Hatchery project can be a great benefit to the West Side of Chicago and the rest of the city,” Cox said. “My concern is about individuals in the community, who currently [live in] this community. They need the heads up. Development without displacement is my cause.”

Mike Tomas, the executive director of the Garfield Park Community Council, which along with Breakthrough Urban Ministries and Inspiration Kitchen have been tapped to lead the Hatchery’s community outreach component, said that he did not think that the Hatchery had respected the community’s wishes or really engaged the public. 

The meeting at which the Hatchery owners were a no-show was just the latest let down for community members hoping that they would have a significant stake in The Hatchery’s existence. 

Tomas said that after Accion approached his organization about the project back in 2015, the council held numerous public meetings where residents expressed their desire to have a role in the The Hatchery’s governance, in addition to a share of the incubator’s profits. 

But when The Hatchery’s community benefits agreement was approved by the City Council last October as part of a larger redevelopment agreement between the city and the incubator’s owners, those key elements were not included in the legally binding document. 

The community benefits agreement that was ultimately approved called for the Industrial Council to create a job readiness program. After July, the council will be required to spend four hours a month helping residents with job placement. 

The agreement calls for Accion to spend six hours a month providing one-on-one technical assistance to West Side entrepreneurs. Hatchery must also offer at least one free class a month for community residents, provide one-on-one consulting services for up to four hours a month and to offer discounts for at least 20 residents. 

Wilonda Cannon, Breakthrough’s senior director of development, said that her organization has been referring clients to the Hatchery’s workforce development programs, although that’s still something of a work in progress.

“We haven’t gotten a final agreement on operating procedures,” she said. “But we have been having conversations about what’s the proper interview and intake process.”

Pat Powell, a West Side resident, told community leaders like Cox and Tomas to use their collective influence with The Hatchery to advocate for community members. 

“I think your voice can play a part,” she said. “Let [The Hatchery] know that there are some pieces that are missing. Use this platform, use this opportunity to communicate to [them]. Let your voice be heard, on our behalf.”

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com    

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...