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Rockford gives culinary program greenlight with $300,000 loan despite concerns

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — After much debate, the Rockford City Council approved a $300,000 loan to the Awaken 815 Foundation for a culinary apprenticeship program.

The money will be used to rehab a former Chinese restaurant on East State Street near Fairview.

The program is a partnership with the College of DuPage and is catered to kids 16 to 24. They will go through a free eight week class and local restaurants that have signed on with the program will be able to hire kids and give them real-world experience.

The city will forgive $50,000 of the loan after construction is finished and another $50,000 after 100 students complete the program.

But while aldermen did tout the positive impacts of the program they did raise some concerns. That's because another business will lease space in the building and aldermen say that worries them about whether funding was going to the non-profit or a private business.

"This is a project that I am all for, but the fact is that some items were brought up right before the call to vote that hadn't been mentioned before and it just called some things into question," says Ald. Chad Tuneberg, who voted "No" on the loan.

Ald. Bill Rose, who voted "Yes" says aldermen "were not aware that the sublease would be a family member," but he is supportive of the program.

"How is a not-for-profit going to gain some revenue for their business?" Ald. Bill Rose asks. "We all knew that they were going to have to sublease the building."

The building is in need of a fully functioning industrial kitchen so aldermen say it's unclear when this program will begin.

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