The developers behind the proposed East Garfield Park design district are looking for local residents to step up and start the process of opening a food co-op in the development – even while some of the issues surrounding land ownership and funding remained unresolved.

As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, Andrea “Siri” Hibbler, head of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce, and her husband, Milton Hibbler, are currently working to redevelop the area near Madison Street and 5th Avenue, between California and Francisco Avenues. 

They plan to build a technology incubator, an art center and mixed-use buildings, with retail on the first floor and affordable apartments on the floors above. On Oct. 30, Siri held a community meeting at Garfield Park’s Golden Dome fieldhouse, 100 Central Park Ave., to update the residents about the project’s progress and give them a chance to ask questions.

During the meeting, Hibbler revealed that they were looking to put a co-op grocery store in one of the mixed-use buildings, but that it would be up to the interested residents to work out the logistics necessary to make it happen. 

She also revealed that that there is a snag with some of the parcels necessary for the project. One of the property owners wants to lease out his parcels rather than sell them outright, which would drive up the cost of the project. 

And while Hibbler previously told this newspaper that all of the funding had been secured, during the Oct. 30 meeting, she revealed that this wasn’t quite the case. They have $40 million, enough to complete the first phase of the development, but they still have to raise the remaining two thirds of the project’s total costs. 

Most of what Hibbler described during the Oct. 30 meeting wasn’t much different from what she outlined during an interview last August.  The plan would involve a total of 19 buildings that would be built over the course of three phases. The first, roughly $30 million, phase calls for a mixed-used building at the northwest corner of the California/Madison intersection and a “design and technology center” business incubator at the southeast corner. 

The second phase calls for the construction of an art center and gallery space at the southwestern corner intersection, as well as another mixed-used building. 

The third phase calls for the construction of the remaining mixed-used buildings on the north side of Madison Street, a play lot, a grand entrance sign and a performance space at 5th Avenue. 

Hibbler mentioned that the city urged them to prioritize the design center, so they would be building it first. She also said that the Chicago Department of Planning gave them permission to build up to five floors, more than the area zoning would ordinarily allow. 

Hibbler said that they wanted to do a cooperative grocery store in the development because, while there is a Pete’s Fresh Market location near East Garfield Park’s east border, much of the community doesn’t have a grocery store anywhere near them and she wanted to capitalize on the assets the community already has.

‘We have 34 farms in our community,” she said. “Angela [Taylor] does a great job of putting together [Garfield Park] Farmers market – but we can do better.”

 The idea, Hibbler said, was to have a market where both residents and employees buy shares. 

“It’s an opportunity for the community to grow those entrepreneurs that want to buy shares,” she said. 

At the same time, Hibbler emphasized that they would need residents to volunteer to handle the ins and outs of getting a co-op grocery store up and running. They already have their hands full with the development and it is important for them to ensure that a co-op grocery store was something that the residents actually want — otherwise, they won’t do it, they said.

Hibbler estimated that the development will create 2,000 jobs. Hiring local, she said, is important. She said they hope to start the project in the spring of 2019. And she indicated that she planned on working with the Safer Foundation to hire local residents for construction jobs.

The project is estimated to cost $100 million. During the Oct.30 meeting, Hibbler said that one of their funders “committed to giving us $40 million.” While that is enough to cover the cost of the first phase, she said that they still have some ‘ways to go” to cover the rest. 

And the project could potentially get more expensive. Hibbler and development architect Karl Guider explained that one of the property owners supports the project, but he is only willing to lease the land instead of selling it outright.

“The leasing part, that’s when the numbers get skewed, because we have to pay them every month,” Guider said.

When asked about transparency, Hibbler promised to regularly update the residents about the project.

“I’m going to start having [Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce] meetings every month to let you guys know what’s going on,” she said.


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...