Cook County Closes $2.47 Million in C-PACE Financing for Calumet City’s Wilder Fields Project
(Calumet City, IL) — The Cook County C-PACE Program, administered by the Illinois Energy Conservation Authority NFP (“IECA”), an Illinois tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, announced today that it closed Calumet City’s first project utilizing Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (“C-PACE”) financing to support Wilder Fields’ first full-scale indoor vertical farm. Located at 1717 West-West Road in Calumet City, IL, Wilder Fields is a technology-enabled food company that produces fresh, safe, sustainably grown food to be sold in groceries and select restaurants within 100 miles of its location.
"I’m thrilled that Wilder Fields has utilized this program to transform a vacant big box store into a sustainable vertical farm serving the local community, grocers, and restaurateurs with high quality produce,” stated Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "This program is not only cost-efficient - it is also exemplary of the opportunities and assets embedded in the South Suburbs. I encourage more property owners throughout Cook County to take advantage of the C-PACE Program to adapt more sustainable operations and practices."
In addition to offering businesses a strategic location, Cook County’s Southland serves as a hub for the region’s food production. The area includes manufacturing, processing, and packaging firms, making this a natural location for Wilder Fields.
“At Wilder Fields we greatly reduce our environmental impact by repurposing large abandoned buildings,” said Jake Counne, founder and CEO of Wilder Fields. “From our company’s inception, we sought ways to make indoor vertical farming profitable by tackling the high costs of energy and labor that have challenged so many in our industry. The Cook County C-PACE program has helped us do that. The financial and knowledge-sharing support we received is very helpful to our team. We’re also grateful to the city of Calumet City for their innovative vision and partnership in creating our first full-scale vertical farm.”
Wilder Fields has converted a 135,000-sf vacant Target retail store into an indoor vertical farm producing leafy greens at commercial scale. The C-PACE financing provided capital by Greenworks Lending from Nuveen, the nation’s leading C-PACE capital provider dedicated to the funding of energy performance-enhancing commercial, multi-family, and non-profit real estate projects. Wilder Fields used this $2.47 million loan to purchase growing towers for the company’s first phase of construction.
Wilder Fields’ Phase One build-out comprises office space, multiple climate-controlled areas, and a cold chain processing/growing area containing two cleanrooms, each measuring 105,000 cubic-feet. At full capacity, the facility will include 22 cleanrooms housing growing towers holding tiers of plants. These racks of plants are overseen by AI-enabled cameras supplying real-time information that is used to dynamically control the hydroponic delivery of nutrients as well as an LED lighting system. This makes it possible to provide the best environment for each variety of greens. Construction is underway with a completion date set for February 2022.
Founded in 2016, Wilder Fields operated a 2,000-sf pilot farm at a successful Chicago food-business incubator called The Plant, where it developed its business model and several patent-pending software and hardware systems.
Launched in 2019, C-PACE financing is an innovative tool that provides low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, and resiliency projects in commercial buildings. Cook County commercial property owners can obtain up to 100% upfront financing from private capital providers for qualified upgrades such as HVAC, lighting and solar photovoltaic systems, and many more improvements in existing buildings as well as new construction projects.
“Our team is very grateful to Cook County’s Bureau of Economic Development’s Mohammed Elahi, who was instrumental in guiding us through the rigorous vetting process," added Counne. "We greatly benefited from his expertise as well as that of Greenworks during the discovery and planning process.”
C-PACE financing stimulates economies by funding the upfront capital for projects that may lower operating costs, generate clean energy, instill resiliency, and promote water-use conservation in commercial properties. From 2009 to 2020, C-PACE programs have funded more than 2,500 qualifying projects nationwide for a total of $2 billion, while also creating over 22,400 jobs.
“We are very excited about this project and the new opportunities it will bring to Calumet City and the indoor agriculture industry. We encourage local businesses to take advantage of clean energy improvements because they benefit the environment and individual businesses, strengthening the local economy,” said Mark Pikus, President of the IECA.
“Climate change is very real, and everyone has to be part of the solution, including commercial property owners,” stated Xochitl Flores, Bureau Chief, Economic Development. “We must work to create and support new programs for clean energy in Cook County that also will enhance the quality of our lives, support implementing energy-efficient capital improvements, add jobs, and reduce costs. That is why we created the C-PACE program.”
To find out more about Cook County’s program, go to www.cookcountyil.gov/service/clean-energy-cpace-program.