LITTLE VILLAGE — After three years, Xquina, a bilingual business incubator, co-working space and cafe in Little Village, is officially in the works.
On Wednesday morning, the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a ceremonial groundbreaking at 3523- 3525 W. 26th St., marking a momentous day for the project that was initially introduced to neighbors in 2018.
Blanca Soto, executive director of the chamber, called the ground breaking a “big day” for the neighborhood and local entrepreneurs who will soon have a new space to cultivate their ideas.
“This project is rooted in the legacy of strong Latino entrepreneurship and will drive the future of entrepreneurship in our community,” Soto said during a press conference.
As part of the project, the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the Little Village Community Foundation will rehab two- and three-story buildings on the corner of 26th Street and Drake Avenue.
The first floor will include a cafe run by Ambrosio Gonzalez of La Catedral Cafe, a bilingual business incubator, conference room, multimedia space and a shared commercial kitchen run by Little Village-based Food Hero, a culinary education startup.
The second floor will include a co-working space, private offices, a multimedia room for podcasting and a conference room. The third floor will be a gallery for local artists and an event space.
“This project will become an educational ecosystem for Black and Brown entrepreneurs here and in our surrounding communities,” Soto said. “Xquina will address inequities faced in communities of color like La Villita, and provide culturally relevant programming, mentorship and much-needed access to capital to overcome these inequities.”
“It will be a safe place for community residents to come together and share ideas with one another with a purpose of opening their own business,” Soto added.
Earlier this month, Chicago’s City Council granted the project $1.5 million in Neighborhood Opportunity Funds, closing out financing for the project.
The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund program allows developers to pay a fee to build bigger and taller structures Downtown. The money they pay into the fund then is used to support projects in disinvested neighborhoods.
The groups raised $1 million for the project and also received $1.5 million from the state.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the project was “a great example” of public and private collaboration to create an important community hub for the neighborhood.
“This groundbreaking is more than just an investment in Little Village, it represents our shared investment in our entire city, expanding equity outside of downtown and into our neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said.
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said years of persistence from area stakeholders made this new community hub a reality.
In 2005 and 2013, the neighborhood came together to create a quality of life plan, which stated that area entrepreneurs needed more support, Rodriguez said.
Xquina will provide that support for those hoping to run a business of their own along 26th Street, which he called the “backbone” of the city.
“This will be an amazing space, not only to invest in existing businesses but to start new businesses,” Rodriguez said.
The Little Village chamber announced plans for Xquina Cafe in 2018 but the plan stalled after negations at the original location fell through. Instead of losing the previously approved $250,000 city grant, the group opted to look at other sites.
Juan Saldana, principal at P3 Markets, said they nearly threw in the towel but kept moving forward to help neighbors and local entrepreneurs to “build community wealth.”
The Xquina project is being broken up into two phases. The first phase, which includes the first floor interior and restoring the exterior of the building first constructed in 1888, is expected to be completed next summer.
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