Grow, Gift, Repair

Co-ops in Chicago?

Lightfoot said up to $15 million generated by tax-increment financing could be used as seed money for the plan to open a “cooperative cultivation center” that residents of color could “buy into” — either with a “modest cash investment” or with “sweat equity.”

She said the idea is aimed at overcoming the biggest impediment to minority ownership: access to capital.

“This is a very, very expensive business to get involved with. The basics to be a cultivator requires about a $13 million to $15 million investment. There are not a lot of people that have that, particularly in a market that a lot of banks and traditional lenders won’t touch,” she said.

“I think the only way to really crack this nut is for the city to invest its own resources to get engaged, get diverse entrepreneurs involved in the most lucrative part of the business, which is cultivation,” Lightfoot added.

“First of all, we’ve got to jump through the regulatory hoops. … Hopefully, we will get those roadblocks cleared. But I’m very serious about it.”

And where would a cash-strapped city find $15 million to open its own cultivation center?
“Well, we obviously have resources,” Lightfoot said, mentioning not just TIF money but also the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and Catalyst Funds.

The share-the-wealth Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, uses funds generated by developers. In order to build bigger and taller buildings in a broader downtown area, they contribute to a fund that is then used to rebuild long-ignored neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides.