German Village Gazette

Food district planned for Weinland Park

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Plans call for a three-story, 45,000-square-foot facility complete with a food-processing center, on a site bounded by North Fourth Street, East Sixth Avenue, North Fifth Street and East Fifth Avenue.

Weinland Park is the site of a proposed three-story food district, complete with a food-processing center, designed to supply central Ohio with local produce and create dozens of jobs.

The development plan calls for a 45,000-square-foot facility, estimated to cost $20 million, to be located on a site bounded by North Fourth Street, East Sixth Avenue, North Fifth Street and East Fifth Avenue.

The Godman Guild recently purchased the vacant Woody & Jo's House of Ribs, 222 E. Fifth Ave., making a 3.5-acre site whole in the Near North Side neighborhood.

The remainder of the land is owned by Wagenbrenner Development, which has been a partner since planning began two years ago.

The Community Economic Development Corp. of Ohio, an affiliate of the Godman Guild, is leading the project.

"For any development project, if you don't have control of the land, you don't have control of the project," said Jon Moorehead, executive director of CEDCO.

"So, this has been key, that the entire proposed site is under control of the collaboration of partners."

Initial plans call for a large-scale food processing center, co-op market and cafe, and space for business development services, market research and brand development, and events.

The next phase will be raising money to build the center.

Moorehead said officials will turn to a variety of sources -- business community, grants and private donors -- while firming up the business model.

"That's always a potential constraint, convincing funding sources that it's a worthwhile project and that it has some impact," Moorehead said, adding officials hope to break ground in the next 18 months.

The facility is designed to be self-sustaining, he said. Each of the various sections will be for lease.

"The point that came across quite strongly through the planning process is this is intended to be a viable operating business," Moorhead said.

Officials expect a major agricultural company to lease the food-processing center, which will occupy the largest footprint in the facility, he said.

"It's going to have to be a big player for that space, because that's going to have to be the major revenue-generator," he said. "It's got to be a known entity."

Weinland Park was chosen for several reasons, he said. For starters, it's an economically distressed area with 35 percent unemployment, but unusually good access to the freeway system, downtown, Ohio State University and cultural destinations, such as the Short North.

Moorehead said the hub will create a minimum of 60 jobs.

"So we're looking for some immediate impact to the adjacent area and long-term impact on the region," he said.

Brian Williams, an agriculture specialist at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said initial planning was funded by an $864,000 grant from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.

MORPC, which had been involved in local foods issues and distributed the grant money, began casual discussions with Wagenbrenner Development about establishing some community gardens in the area, which led to a greater discussion about the food district.

In July, MORPC, the Godman Guild and CEDCO released a report on the need for the food district.

Williams said it satisfies several critical needs in the community, from providing fresh local produce to creating jobs.

"There's a lot going on locally and nationally with local foods and the eating public seems to like the idea," he said. "And I like to think it makes economic sense."