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Mesa planning to use COVID relief to build restaurant 'incubator'

The city's looking to find a space along Main Street in Mesa's downtown region for a kitchen that can teach entrepreneurs how to manage a restaurant.
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MESA, Ariz. — The City of Mesa is planning to use up to $3.5 million of its COVID-19 relief funding to build a "restaurant incubator" for local entrepreneurs looking to learn more about the food industry.  

City officials are in the midst of searching for a location along Main Street that could house a commercial kitchen and public food court for businesses needing help to find their footing in the local restaurant market. 

Several restaurant owners would use the shared space to develop skills in menu design, portion control, and kitchen management. Up to seven restaurants would potentially get to serve customers in the incubator's dining hall. 

Jeff McVay, the city's manager of downtown transformation, told the city council last week the project is intended to assist the restaurants that closed or downsized during the pandemic. 

"Our main objectives with this are to help those restaurants that were directly impacted by COVID," McVay said. 

Mesa is planning to use a portion of the funding it was allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act to develop the building that will house the restaurant incubator. 

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Congress approved in March distributing $1.9 trillion in ARPA funds to help cities and states recover from the pandemic's economic effects. 

Mesa recently decided to spend $3 million of its $53 million in ARPA money for creating a high-tech crime center. 

City Manager Chris Brady said the $3.5 million that's been budgeted for the incubator project would be a "one-time investment" since Mesa would rely on a separate entity to operate the facility. 

The city plans to outsource operating the incubator to a nonprofit like Local First Arizona, which already manages a community kitchen for entrepreneurs near Main Street and Mesa Drive. 

Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona said the organization's shared kitchen is currently in high demand from locals wishing to learn more about the restaurant industry.

"We could fill it four times over, that's how many businesses we have on a waiting list right now," Lanning said. 

Mesa Mayor John Giles said he thinks the restaurant incubator is a great use of ARPA funds and believes the facility could have a meaningful impact on downtown businesses. 

"Downtown is doing great but there are still a lot of dark spots," the mayor said. "So there's still work to be done downtown." 

Once a location downtown has been selected for the incubator, city officials will present a contract to the council for final approval. 

More information about the project can be found here. 

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