In July 2017, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced the plans for The Hatchery Chicago, a new food and beverage business incubator in East Garfield Park. The development eventually received a $7 million taxpayer subsidy, a dozen vacant lots valued at $150,000 (for which it paid $1) and $30 million in federal tax credits and grants. However, many residents said they did not know about the project prior to seeing construction underway on vacant lots on the corner of Lake Street and Kedzie Avenue in 2018.
Informing community members ahead of construction is a perennial struggle for developers. “I don’t think you’re ever going to reach everyone in a neighborhood,” says Mary Fran Riley, who is point person for community outreach for The Hatchery Chicago. She said they reached out to the Garfield Park Community Council (GPCC) initially because the development was slated for land that was previously used as the group’s neighborhood market.
Eventually, the conversation led to a Memorandum of Understanding between the developers and GPCC that promised a job readiness program, job opportunities, free consulting and coaching for entrepreneurs, free and discounted kitchen use, a space inside the development for the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market and more. In turn, GPCC spread word on the project at block club meetings, through flyering, at monthly community meetings and through their website and social media, according to Riley.
However, no other community groups signed onto the agreement, and some residents criticized the GPCC for not engaging with neighbors who were not active members of the council. Others said that it was the developers’ fault for not trying to engage with more groups.
“Developers have a responsibility to the community to let residents know about a project ahead of time,” says Melvin Cox, a real estate broker and Garfield Park resident who hosted one of the community meetings about the project in 2018. “[GPCC] has done good work and they’ve got great intentions … but I could quickly identify that they were put in a tight position.
“At the end of the day, there was [an agreement] that was created as part of The Hatchery project that did not have any input from the community,” Cox says. In particular, he mentions that most of the outreach for The Hatchery Chicago happened in the 27th Ward, even though the development is on the border of the 28th Ward, where Cox says neighbors did not know about the agreement negotiated by GPCC at all.
Mike Tomas, executive director of GPCC, says his organization secured important benefits for the community. He notes that his group presented monthly updates at least 12 times while developing the MOU and took residents on tours of the space as it was being developed. According to the developer, The Hatchery Chicago’s workforce development program placed over 50 people in jobs in 2020.
However, Tomas acknowledges that his organization could have negotiated for more if they had known about the massive public subsidies the development received. “[Knowing] could have bolstered our argument because the community is investing in this project. We were going into it blindly, in good faith,” he says. Tomas adds that the city could play an important role in communicating with community members before a development comes in, especially on how to negotiate.
Gina Jamison, long-time community resident and manager of Kuumba Tre-Ahm Community Garden, says she’s taken advantage of some of The Hatchery Chicago’s classes and is one of the nearly 40 vendors in the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, selling pickled okra, pickled turnips, zucchini bread bites and banana bread.
While she is well-connected in the community, she worries that the right people aren’t always at the table when decisions are made about incoming developments. In part, she blames it on the lack of engagement of residents. “You’ve got to do your due diligence and your own research to be as engaged as possible … because what’s going to go in a community is going to happen, whether you know about it and not,” Jamison says.
The People’s Guide
City Bureau’s Will That New Development Benefit Your Community? The People’s Guide to Community Benefits Agreements and Alternatives informs, engages and equips Chicago residents to be active participants in the development process. Want to share this zine with your neighbors? You can read the full version and order print copies in English and Spanish at citybureau.org/cba
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