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Food District to Bring Jobs, Resources and Fresh Food to Weinland Park

Walker Evans Walker Evans Food District to Bring Jobs, Resources and Fresh Food to Weinland Park
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The Community Economic Development Corporation of Ohio (CEDCO) kicked off a campaign this morning to build a brand new state-of-the-art food-processing an workforce development center in the heart of the Weinland Park neighborhood.

The plans for the project were developed through a Community Challenge Grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which was awarded to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) in 2011.

“Today we had a passing-of-the-shovel,” explained Brian Williams, Agriculture Specialist at MORPC. “MORPC coordinated the group that created this ambitious and comprehensive plan, and that plan won’t have any time to sit on the shelf because we’re putting it directly into the hands of CEDCO. They’re charged with making this happen.”

The proposed building would be located at the northeast intersection of North Fourth Street and East Fifth Avenue, the former home of the vacant 3M building, which burned down in May 2011. The development would include a locally-focused food processing plant, a co-op market, public café, an aquaponics system, office space and event space.

The Food District was described by Williams as a social enterprise that must operate sustainably as a business.

“We’ve had some great people with business experience working with us and advising us on this project,” he said. “We’re hoping for private sector donations, Columbus Foundation grants, and other financing, but once this is up and running, it can’t have operating subsidies. It has to stand on its own, so we’ve looked at revenue streams and viable business models that in turn would leave funding to do job training and educational programs.”

Jon Moorehead, the Executive Director of CEDCO, is now leading the effort on the capital campaign that will aim to raise the funding to get the Food District launched. He says that it’s too early to announce any timelines related to construction schedules, but says that the project is at least two years away from a ribbon cutting.

“This will probably be done in an incremental fashion with the two separate buildings,” explained Moorehead. “The first building would include the processing center and event space, with the second building focused more on entrepreneurial education and incubator spaces.”

Beyond the Weinland Park initiative, MORPC envisions the project to serve as a model for a larger regional food system, as outlined in the Central Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan (PDF) in 2010.

“MORPC has been working on such a system,” added Williams. ” We’ve been establishing local food councils in Franklin and the surrounding counties, and promoting a network of food hubs to improve the processing and distribution infrastructure.”

The key components of that larger regional system remain a focus of the Weinland Park project, according to Moorehead.

“In any kind of real estate development you’ll have some revisions along the way, but hopefully not too many,” he said. “We are committed to making sure that food is produced out of the Food District, accessibility to food is achieved for immediate neighbors and for the city in general, and that the economic multipliers are there to help with job creation that can address the 36% unemployment rate of the Weinland Park neighborhood.”

Additional grant partners in the Food District project include the Godman Guild, Local Matters, The Ohio State University, City of Columbus. Wagenbrenner Development currently owns the land that will be used for the Food District, and other collaborators include Keida & Associates, Design Group, MKSK Studios, and McMahon DeGullis LLP.

“We applaud the efforts of all involved in this exciting planning effort, particularly the  leadership of CEDCO and Ellen Williams,” said  Mark Wagenbrenner, president of Wagenbrenner Development. “We can’t  wait to see what’s next. If this gets done, it will be the center piece of our neighborhood.”

Additional information can be found online at www.cedcohio.org and www.thefooddistrict.org.

For more news and discussion on Weinland Park, CLICK HERE to visit our messageboard.

Renderings via Design Group, MKSK and KSA.

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  • bdm1966

    Great article, Walker. It shows the investment and energy around WP is sustaining momentum. It’s a template other urban neighborhoods can use.

  • This project seems to be a perfect fit to address some of the challenges the neighborhood is facing – like needed jobs, redevelopment of former industrial sites, and neighborhood sustainability. If completed, this will serve as an asset to other Short North neighborhoods as well. Workforce development and food sustainability are two obstacles I wouldn’t normally envision as mutual solutions, but the planners have really pulled it together nicely (and it looks cool). The momentum in Weinland Park these last few years is remarkable. Thanks for sharing.

  • Looks like a great fit to help redevelop this deteriorated part of the neighborhood and would be nicely complimented by the massive streetscape improvements about to happen on 5th Ave.
    The redevelopment and infill of Weinland Park & Dennison Place/the Peach District has been incredible over the past couple years and this would certainly be a big boost for the momentum on the eastern front!

  • I love the idea of bringing jobs to this area and redeveloping a blighted vacant lot. But “food processing center?” Not sure what that means, but I’m pretty much opposed to processed food of any type. Is it a distribution center? Is it a place where they make pink slime and FrankenFood? Is it where junk food is born? What is a “food processing center?” and why would we want it in our neighborhood? What happens to the by-products of the food being “processed?”

  • What is the timeline for the project. This is super exciting because its about a three min walk to that corner. The area needs more than just culinary and bar/entertainment options for employment. We have to have viable long term business and industry and this project seems to target that. Also it seems its a gathering place as well and that will be cool but I hope it doesn’t get over run by the same bums that hang around Kroger.

  • Lisa I think its produce processing … I think

  • MHJ

    @Lisa — you know, you could just click the links that are in this post to find the answers to your question: “Ohio-grown produce, meat and dairy products would be readied for distribution through flexible pouching, freezing, dry blending and small-batch pasteurization technologies.”

  • Mod-dude

    With the sky looking the way it does in that last image…I would seek shelter right away!!!!

  • @Lisa – No pink slime or FrankenFood or junk food. In a nutshell:
    1) Fresh local produce and/or meat comes in via a local farm network;
    2) Is packaged or turned into healthy meals in a training kitchens or pouching rooms that are staffed by local residents or they are sold in the co-op or distributed to local shops & restaurants or they are used by entrepreneurs in the business incubator program;
    3)wastes are woven into wastefood-scrap hauling and recycling system.

    The entire process and facility is intended to be as cradle-to-cradle as possible. In short, only good things are happening at this facility.

    As @MHJ suggests, here is a link to the vision of the organization: http://thefooddistrict.org/about/.

  • joshlapp

    This is fantastic! I was involved in an agriculture plan for Fairfield County a few years ago and one of the biggest things we learned is that there is a real lack of processing centers for local foods. This would really be a tremendous step in the right direction.

    @Lisa- Processed foods could be anything from Apple Sauce to yogurt. Unless you are eating it off the vine its ‘technically’ processed.

    Just for fun- Here’s our Fairfield County local foods plan: http://www.co.fairfield.oh.us/rpc/images/Fairfield_Full_Plan_082411.pdf

  • Update: Added some additional info to the story this morning from Jon Moorehead of CEDCO.

  • goldenidea

    I believe they mention hydroponics as a part of their planned food growing facilities. If medical marijuana is eventually legalized in Ohio (as many think it’s only a matter of time, nationally), in addition to food, maybe they can also grow “dro” here. Kidding aside, Weinland Park already has a meadery (Bros Drake), a micro-distillery (MiddleWest), a micro-brewery (North High Brewery), so perhaps someday it could also have a “dro-ary”.

  • Achekov

    I’ve read this a couple of times and I’m still not sure I understand exactly what this facility is. Is it a private company or is it part of some institutional entity? Is it an educational facility? I’m confused.

  • This was just in the Clintonville This Week Paper. So exciting – I hope it goes forward.

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