Hub for food startups planned in Grand Boulevard

The city has accepted a developer’s proposal to convert the building at 5021 S. Wabash Ave. into commercial cooking facilities and test kitchens.

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The former Department of Streets and Sanitation building at 5021 S. Wabash Ave.

City of Chicago

A former Department of Streets and Sanitation building in Grand Boulevard will become a hub for food entrepreneurs, city officials said Monday.

The city-owned property will be handed to developer Urban Equities in a $1 sale, officials said. In exchange, the company plans a $4.6 million investment to turn it into Soul City Kitchens, an incubator drawing on interest in food-related ventures along 51st Street between State Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The single-story building is at 5021 S. Wabash Ave. The lot includes land formerly used to park Streets and Sanitation vehicles. Urban Equities plans to provide commercial cooking facilities, test kitchens and related equipment to be rented to entrepreneurs. There also would be a private dining room and community space for rent.

“Chicago remains a global leader in the food innovation space thanks to the talented entrepreneurs who call our city home,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news release. “This new hub will allow us to deepen this reputation while giving food entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds an incredible opportunity to grow their businesses right in their own neighborhood.”

City subsidies include the $1 sale of property that had an appraised value of $90,000, according to the Department of Planning and Development. Tax-increment financing is also possible, although terms of the sale and project details require City Council approval. The building dates from the 1910s, officials said.

Urban Equities CEO Lennox Jackson said the venture will foster jobs and help “chefs of all kinds by minimizing barriers to entry, helping them to focus on their food creations, and enabling them to continuously recalibrate in our so-called ‘new’ normal.”

Urban Equities submitted one of four responses to the city’s request for proposals for the site, said Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for the planning department. The request was published last spring.

Strazzabosco said the agency needed time to review the proposals’ scope, design and financing.

The winning proposal drew praise from Ald. Pat Dowell, whose 3rd Ward contains the site. “This project is going to be a great transformation of surplus city property and an exciting business concept for the corridor. The community is eager to see it completed,” she said in the city’s news release.

Urban Equities has been involved in residential and commercial projects on the South Side.

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