At another public meeting related to the redevelopment of the Mars Candy Factory, 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. in Galewood, on Sept. 24, attendees proposed practical uses for the site.

In small groups, attendees began the meeting by suggesting ideas such as business and green space opportunities that they would like to see at the site.

Seva Gandhi, executive director of Collaborative Connections, then organized the assortment of ideas into categories. The categories included community space, jobs, locally owned business, history preservation, life-long education, nature space, social services, stewardship and housing. Attendees were then selected groups in which to talk about the various categories.

Tina Augustus, co-founder of the Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce, was the spokesperson for the locally owned business category. Her group named their element ‘Local Small Business.’

“We’re looking to create businesses by individuals who live in and near Austin, so that we can [spend money in our] community instead of going to other communities in Chicago,” Augustus said.

She said their practical ideas for this element are establishments that the area doesn’t “typically see” or have access to such as a pop-up shops, boutiques, crafts stores, bookstores, movie theaters and cooking schools.

The group for the history preservation category named their key element ‘Living Landmark.’

“We want to see [the Mars Plant] as a designated Chicago landmark,” said Ward Miller, executive director at Preservation Chicago. “We thought education is really critical here. And we want to tie education with keeping some of the equipment of the factory for job-training.”

The education element Miller’s group discussed entails preservation of the factory with a candy museum called ‘Sweet Home Chicago,’ a community museum focused on the history of the Galewood, Austin, Mont-Clare and Belmont-Cragin communities, as well as local Native American history. 

‘Viable Economic Drivers for Local Area’ became the element for the job category.

“One [practical use] is space for new and innovative industries for manufacturing, healthcare, tech, and TDL, which is transportation, distribution, logistics,” said Darnell Shields, executive director of Austin Coming Together.

The next group, representing the life-long education category titled their key element for the site ‘Center for Life-long Community Learning.’

Uses for their element include an arts studio space, partnerships with local universities and colleges, and intergenerational mentoring.

“We’re really excited about thinking about how we can even leverage outdoor classroom space as a way to bring together people of all ages in the community to continue learning,” said Kyra, group spokesperson. “And using resident educators and artists from the community to drive the programming.”

In other groups, residents said they would like natural sustainable production on the site, with ideas for a greenhouse to grow vegetables.

“So the idea is to see what nature gives us on the site to make things of value,” said Larry Kearns, architect and group spokesperson.

Athena Williams, the executive director at the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, outlined a variety of potential uses for the site, including as parent lodging for the nearby Shriners Children’s Hospital. Other potential uses included senior housing, a group home for disabled elderly people and an assisted living facility.

There are two more meetings scheduled for Oct. 8 and Oct. 19 before deciding what the site will become following 2024.