The Will Group, a black-owned electric power equipment manufacturer based in suburban Wheaton, is building a 60,000-square foot warehouse in North Lawndale at 801-825 S. Kilpatrick Ave., in order to expand and consolidate its operations. And the company said that it's keeping its options open when it comes to attracting possible tenants — even a craft cannabis grower.
In a statement, Jessica Garmon, the company's chief operating officer, said that they are "exploring a variety of uses and tenants for this $20 million investment in the Lawndale neighborhood; however, it is very early in the process and no final decisions have been made regarding the building's utilization."
Garmon said that the company has not applied for a craft growing license for the K-Town site, but that it has applied for a city zoning change that would allow the facility to host a licensed craft cannabis grower, if the opportunity ever arises.
The company, which currently rents a manufacturing and distribution facility at 5261 W. Harrison St. in Austin, was founded 33 years ago and manufactures lighting and power equipment, as well as solar panels. It assembles street lights for ComEd as part of the city's push to install smart LED lighting throughout Chicago. Most recently, the family-owned company was one of the four firms selected to make cloth face masks that that the city has been distributing for free.
Garmon previously explained that the firm was looking to buy the vacant, city-owned property between Polk Street, Kilpatrick Avenue, Arthington Avenue and the Belt Railway tracks in order to consolidate the company and its subsidiaries into one building. Garmon said that the Will Group would have more flexibility if the company owned a space outright. Garmon said at the time that the company didn't plan to abandon the Austin facility if it moved into the North Lawndale space.
The Will Group's Lyons View Manufacturing and Supply subsidiary will be the primary user of the new North Lawndale facility, with Electrical Resource Management, Lighting Solutions of Illinois, and TWiG Technologies — all subsidiaries of the company — using parts of building, as well. In addition to the 60,000-square-foot warehouse, there will be a building housing office space, as well, according to the zoning application.
The new space will be called the K-Town Business Centre. According to Will Group's Facebook page, the name is a nod to both the western portion of North Lawndale, which is called "K-Town" because all the vertical streets have names that start with K, and Knoxville, Tenn., which is the hometown of Will Group Chairman Stephen Davis.
Will Group bought the property for $332,500, less than the $440,000 for which it was appraised. While the Chicago City Council approved the sale in March 2019, the records included in the zoning application show that the deed wasn't transferred until Jan. 8, 2020.
According to Will Group's Facebook page, the company began construction of the larger building in February. A video posted on the company's YouTube channel describes it as a "mixed-use facility" that will be used to make Smart LED lights, capacitor banks and electric distribution systems, while making an oblique reference to "more." The company expects the K-Town Business Centre to create "around 100" jobs and it said it wants to hire from the community.
Crain's Chicago Business reported that the company is applying for one of the 40 state "craft-growing" cannabis cultivation licenses. Under the state regulations, those growers can put "5,000 square feet of canopy space on its premises" to grow cannabis, so it could potentially go into either building and still have space left over for other uses.
Garmon told Crain's that the Will Group teamed up with a partner for this venture, but declined to name that partner. In an interview with Austin Weekly News, however, Garmon said that the Will Group was not applying for the license to grow craft cannabis.
The Will Group's zoning application has been referred to the City Council's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks & Building Standards, which is currently scheduled to have its next meeting virtually on June 16. Assuming the application clears the committee, it will go to the full City Council approval on June 17.
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