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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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