BACK OF THE YARDS — Bubbly Dynamics’ The Plant is launching a massive expansion and overhaul of its Back of the Yards space thanks to a seven-figure grant from the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.
The Plant, 1400 W. 46th St., received more than $1.6 million, the largest amount given in the latest round of grants last week. The program is designed to give entrepreneurs — particularly those on the South and West sides — a boost to start construction or renovations on their businesses, buy land and more.
Currently, The Plant is home to Whiner Beer Co.’s taproom, The Turtle Stop, Chicago Vegan Test Kitchen and more.
“We’re grateful to the city of Chicago and the Department of Planning and Development for this. We all think that NOF is a great program,” said John Edel, founder and director of The Plant.
The Plant was once was an industrial meat packing facility but is now a sustainable business incubator.
Edel said the grant — which must be approved by the City Council — will be used to fund construction for seven commercial incubator kitchens as well as renovations to existing parts of the building. The project will add 7,000 square feet to the building on top of the existing space, Edel said.
“They’re sometimes called ‘starter kitchens,’ because they’re well equipped for startup food businesses,” Edel said.
Food businesses often have a high startup cost for the physical space they need and for “kitchen infrastructure” such as basin sinks, refrigeration and work tables, Edel said.
“The idea is that you can walk in without much capital and with a good quality concept, and then start the production” at The Plant’s incubator kitchens, Edel said. “Then, hopefully, graduate to your own space, whether it’s at The Plant or somewhere else.”
Edel said that The Plant’s existing commercial spaces have been occupied for a while. The renovation will allow The Plant to “add considerably to the available space, and hopefully incubate a lot of new South Side food businesses.”
In addition to the incubator spaces, the grant will support a $2.8 million renovation of the facility. Much of the changes will increase accessibility of The Plant, like adding freight and passenger elevators. The project also includes the construction of a north entrance that would provide ADA access to all floors of The Plant, including the backyard farms and parking lot.
Long term, the funding for this project will ensure the efficiency and growth of The Plant and its mission toward supporting environmentally sustainable small business models, Edel said.
“The Plant is essentially a living laboratory, meaning it is continuously changing and adapting,” Edel said. “What this funding allows us to do is to modernize aspects of our nearly-a-century-old former meat packing plant to make it better able to serve businesses in the 21st century. There are certain modifications and improvements that we need to make to make it good for the next 100 years.”
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