Edmonton invests $600,000 to turn old warehouse into new food hub

The project would transform the Capital Place Art Building into a food business incubator and production facility with a public market, retail and event space, and 13 shared commercial kitchens.

Old warehouse in Central McDougall set to become a culinary business booster

A lack of accessible commercial kitchen space has made it difficult for food entrepreneurs to grow in Edmonton, says lead partner for the project Kirsta Franke. (John Shypitka/CBC and Dean Fosdick/AP Photo)

Plans to transform a 70-year-old warehouse in central Edmonton into a new hub for cultivating Edmonton's food scene are getting served up some financial backing from city hall.

The project, called The Public, would transform the Capital Place Art Building at 10560 107th St. into a food business incubator and production facility with a public market, retail and event space, and 13 shared commercial kitchens.

City council's executive committee on Monday approved $600,000 in funding for the project.

Council had previously approved the funds during budget deliberations last year, pending the presentation of a detailed business plan from the project's proponents, Wild Heart Collective and Makespace Edmonton.

"Whatever it is that they're producing — whether it's the kinds of things that you'd find at the farmers markets or ultimately you'll see in super markets hopefully beyond the Edmonton market — I'm just excited to see what our culinary creators can come up with," said Mayor Don Iveson.

Coun. Ben Henderson likened the project to Startup Edmonton in the Mercer Warehouse, where entrepreneurs get space and the resources they need to work and collaborate with industry.

"We're seeing a remarkable opportunity around local food, and building a really good reputation around local foodm and I think this is a real key piece to that puzzle," Henderson said.


It's a really big building and there will be lots to love inside.-Kirsta Franke

The 15,000-square-foot facility in the Central McDougall neighbourhood will help cultivate and grow local business in a new way, said Kirsta Franke, lead partner for the project.


"We want to cultivate food entrepreneurs," Franke said in an interview Monday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.


"There's actually nothing like this across Alberta currently. A production hub is pretty unique. We need that to strengthen our food economy.

"It's a really big building and there will be lots to love inside." 
After working on the the project for two years, Kirsta Franke is keen to start construction. (Kirsta Franke/Facebook)


Plans call for the kitchen and production space to be available 24 hours a day. Space would be offered through a series of flexible rental contracts or by short-term lease. Mentorship and training in production and business practices would be available for entrepreneurs.


The building would include dry and cold storage, a 10,000-square-foot production space, a test kitchen, tasting room, and dedicated retail space including a café and general store. 


There are also plans for a shipping-container greenhouse to grow produce year-round, and a rooftop garden complete with apiary.


The $3-million project would include would become sustainable at 70 per cent occupancy, and with 15 businesses eager to rent, the project is already close to hitting that benchmark.


Franke, who has been running the 124th Street farmers market since 2012, has been working on the incubator idea for more than two years.


Managing the market's 300 vendors has shown her how small businesses struggle to grow.


"We're bringing together some really necessary concepts and creating a publicly-accessible space for people to access these products," said Franke, who is one of the founders of the Wild Heart Collective.


"We believe we need to create a strong production hub for these products to be produced and manufactured and create a space for all that activity to happen in."

There's been a lot of businesses that we've seen unfortunately slip through the cracks.-Kirsta Franke


Commercial kitchen space is hard to come by in Edmonton, and extremely expensive to build, Franke said.


The lack of access has meant that small businesses have struggled to expand beyond the farmer's market community, Franke said.


She believes The Public could change that in a big way.


"It's been brewing for years in every farmers market stall in the city," she said. "As farmers markets have evolved, we believe our food system and also the support network in which we support these business hasn't evolved.


"There's been a lot of businesses that we've seen unfortunately slip through the cracks and fail, or not be properly supported in their development."


The project founders have signed a 10-year lease on the building and have a $231,000 provincial grant and have secured some private financing, Franke said.


The first phase of construction will start with five commercial kitchens, with plans to add retail spaces and a multi-day public market over the coming years. Franke said the hope is to host a grand opening in October.

"We'll look to expand as the businesses succeed." 



With files from Natasha Riebe