GRAND BOULEVARD — Laurie Ouding, a pediatric nurse, has been on a mission to build a food hall in Bronzeville for several years, investing $50,000 of her own money to create a space for the community.
The pandemic has slowed down her progress, but last week she found out her project, Food Matters, was receiving $15,000 from a city program designed to support healthy communities near public transit.
Food Matters, planned near the Green Line at 435 E. 43rd Street, envisions a year-round indoor farmer’s market, shared commercial kitchens and a community gathering space all premised around improving nutrition and food access. Ouding is still working on buying the city-owned property, but the $15,000 grant will help with marketing, and allow her to hire consultants to help her seek out prospective customers or vendors.
“It’s big on the predevelopment side as far as helping with some of those things. Because this is a pilot project and it’s in conjunction with the city, we’re really getting a lot of publicity in that this is out here for people to see,” said Ouding, who moved to Chicago from Michigan in 2008.
Ouding already has amassed substantial support from the public and private sector, including from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Elevated Chicago to Hanna Architects, who’ve signed on to the project. She’s also received a grant from the Chicago Community Loan Fund and help from Chicago TREND, an entity created to boost economic development.
The boost in visibility for Food Matters has helped generate interest in her project on social media as well, Ouding added.
What started out as an $8 million project may wind up being $2 million more, she told Block Club. The land price has doubled in appraised value, but Ouding is confident the deal will be done soon.
Ultimately, she envisions a future where spaces like hers can serve as a lifeline in every neighborhood with a system that’s able to function year-round and doesn’t have to rely on seasonality for fresh food and produce.
“Covid kind of changed a lot of how people were looking at the food system,” said Ouding. “Had we been up and running, we would’ve been able to to help a lot of those home food deliveries for people who were food insecure because we would have everything on site.”
The city’s ETOD pilot program is part of a larger effort to address the lack of commercial development around transit corridors in underserved areas by funding projects created to help them. Adopted by the Chicago Plan Commission in June 2021, the three-part plan had been in development since 2019.
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