A former snack shack next to Pettengill Park in Auburn could be turned into a commercial kitchen incubator space.

AUBURN — The city is in talks to redevelop a former snack shack into a food production incubator space geared toward the owners of food trucks and other small operations.

Earlier this month, the City Council approved an amended budget for its Community Development Block Grant funds that includes $45,000 toward the project.

According to a memo, if the city ultimately moves forward in renovating the kitchen next to Pettengill Park, the facility will be available for use by qualified low-to-moderate income businesses and entrepreneurs looking “to produce products or the facilitation of pop-up restaurant opportunities.”

Glen Holmes, director of business and community development, said the basic idea would be that interested parties pay a fee to use the kitchen facility. As long as the city recoups the cost of running it, he said, the space could help grow small local businesses such as food trucks or niche products that could be sold in local stores.

He said before he worked in Auburn, he toured a large commercial kitchen incubator in Chicago, which was home to everyone from a grandmother making pumpkin pies to food trucks using the space for daily prep.

“You could see that the response and impact was significant,” he said.

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The concept has been successful at Fork Food Lab in Portland, which according to its website, has 40 members “working side by side to start or grow their companies.”

Mayor Jason Levesque said it would be the first such endeavor in the Lewiston-Auburn area, which has “a huge need” for this type of space.

Holmes said the snack shack, which is next to the Pettengill Park ball field, has not been used in a few years. But, he said, a lot of the equipment needed for a commercial kitchen is already in place. Next will be determining what work needs to be done and meeting federal guidelines on this type of use.

He said there’s some interest, including the possibility of the facility hosting cooking classes and other events. Its location, just down the road from the Auburn Senior Community Center, is another plus, he said.

He said if the project ultimately doesn’t move forward, the Community Development Block Grand money can be reallocated for another use.

In a memo to the council, Holmes said some small or emerging businesses simply can’t afford to rent space or aren’t sure they need it yet, especially as rental costs remain high.

“As more residents are seeking relief from pandemic-related income and/or food insecurity, the availability of a municipally-owned incubator space will allow for experimentation of new products and service businesses within the community, which currently struggle to enter into the commercial real-estate market, or who are solely wholesale production but currently lack the means to open and license the required facilities,” Holmes said.

The memo also said the community development department will solicit proposals from local organizations to “facilitate the scheduling and maintenance of the facilities to qualified entrepreneurs at a sliding scale fee,” as well as “facilitate the required education and immersion training experience.”


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