By Darlene C. Carey
An overjoyed mix of dignitaries–local, state, and federal–and a packed, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd–celebrated the public revealing of the state-of-the-art Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute at 550 S. Saginaw St. Friday in downtown Flint.
A sunny day graced the opening to the public, with many guest speakers acknowledging the various public, private and philanthropic entities that helped bring the multi-million dollar culinary vision, three years in the making, to fruition.
The 36,000-square-foot building, a former Woolworth’s built in 1920, includes state-of-the-art culinary kitchens, baking and pastry kitchens, a meat fabrication laboratory, a confections laboratory, and a garde mangér (a specially ventilated cool area for preparing cold dishes).
“This beautiful edifice was built on the shoulders of Mott Community College’s administrators, faculty and staff who have provided leadership, service and passion for service to this community, Flint and Genesee County” stated Mott Community College President Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea.
Among the largest contributors to the project was the C.S. Mott Foundation, which granted $4 million to the renovation.
According to the Mott Foundation website, the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation was the developer of the site and will own the building for seven to eight years before transferring ownership to MCC.
Among those liberally thanked were the taxpayers of Flint and Genesee County.
Walker-Griffea said a recent economic impact study indicated Mott Community College adds almost $400 million in income yearly to Genesee County.
“We support almost 7,000 jobs. For every one dollar provided to the college through your taxes, we triple the return in tax revenue and public sector savings,” she continued.
Opening the new MCC Culinary Arts Institute in the new location allows the “capacity to double our culinary arts enrollment, and increase the strength of this county’s economy.” According to Walker-Griffea, tax revenue generated $2.85 million for this project alone.
Celebrity Chef Carla Hall (“Chef Hall”) was on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, met with Flint residents and signed autographs, and later delighted guests with a practice demonstration of her famous biscuit recipe.
Chef Hall is known for being a competitor on the TV shows “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars,” and co-hosted on the Emmy award winning talk-show, “The Chew.” She has authored three cookbooks, including her latest Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration. For more information about Hall and the cookbooks, follow Carla Hall’s page at the following link:https://www.carlahall.com/
She has worn many hats in her career pathway; from first being an accountant, to model, to finally culinary arts. In a brief interview with EVM, Chef Hall shared this message for future culinary students, “Follow your growth. There was no clear path laid out for me, I just went.”
It’s this transformative advice that Chef Hall echoed with the many partnerships and participants in the project, which Walker-Griffea described as, “revival, renewal and reinvention” for the community in the city of Flint. The MCC Culinary Arts Institute, she said, can be seen as “a beacon for Flint entrepreneurship.”
Applewood Café, now named Applewood at Second & Saginaw, has found a new home at the MCC Culinary Arts Institute and will be in full operation the fall semester.
This comes as good news for Flint Councilmen for the Third Ward, Santino Guerra who said from his past experiences with the MCC catering, “Food motivates a lot of us to do a lot of things.”
Many other elected officials were in attendance. Impromptu speaker, U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee asked to say a few words about the inaugural event, took the podium and said, “I love this town, I love this community and Mott Community College has been such an anchor for us through great times and some real struggle.”
A resonant ovation from the room came as Kildee continued, “And to the trustees and to the president (referring to MCC president), the only president that I can talk to these days.” After a pause for effect, Congressmen Kildee added with arms open-wide, “I’m just kidding, it’s a joke… we get along so well…”
Kildee added, “We get to decide as a community what we are and who we are and nobody gets to define us. People try to do this all the time, and of course, I work in Washington.”
He concluded, “I’m a proud alum of Mott College and I’m particularly proud today.”
Gary Johnson, liaison for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said “I am grateful to be in the position to be able to see the amount of partnerships, participation and community in this room…beautiful to see community here.”
Senator James Ananich, speaking on behalf of accompanying state representatives Sheldon Neeley, John Cherry, and Sheryl Kennedy, explained how Mott Community College was a second chance given to his father, a high school drop-out and who served in the armed forces. He attributed his own success to his father’s experience, stating, “I wouldn’t be here had Mott not given him the opportunity.”
Ananich went on to explain how MCC provided “real life training” to those with diverse backgrounds “from valedictorians to those just scraping by.
“Everyone in this room has a Mott story,” Ananich continued, “I can’t wait to hear students tell their story.”
The Vice-Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners for Genesee County, Ellen Ellenburg, talked about the “marketable skills right here in downtown.” An alumni of MCC herself, Ellenburg shared how her brother Chef Jerry Edgar attended the MCC culinary arts program about 30 years ago and now owns one of New Orleans’ top ten restaurants, Café Degas.
Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver, addressed the tightly packed, shoulder-to-should crowd saying, “See what can happen when city, county and state come together? This is a perfect example of the recognition Flint deserves and by the number of people that showed up, it shows how excited we are…sign me up!”
C.S. Mott Foundation trustee and Program Director Kimberly Roberson said she was “amazed at how much technology is involved in cooking now” adding that the new culinary facility was “cooking for the future.”
Peter Giles, vice president of business development from Cinnaire, explained how his company was able to help with the real-estate financing aspect of the MCC culinary institute project using a federal tool, the New Markets Tax Credit.
According to Tax Policy Center website, “the credit provides an incentive for investment in low-income communities. The US Department of the Treasury competitively allocates tax credit authority to intermediaries that select investment projects. Investors receive a tax credit against their federal income tax.”
Giles continued, “The New Market Tax Credit looks to incentivize private investment, such as projects like these, which is set to expire at the end of this year, so we are hoping Cinnaire and others are looking to renew that tool and extend it and working with Representative Kildee and others at the federal level to see this happen.”
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) was also another main contributor to the MCC Culinary Arts Institute. “MEDC provided a $1.5 million grant, the maximum amount allowed by state law” Executive Vice President Greg Tedder said.
The MEDC has been involved in several Flint area projects, such as the Ferris Wheel, Flint Farmers’ Market, and the YWCA. Now there are plans in the works for bringing in a new hotel to downtown Flint, Tedder said. “Federal partners have approved our budget…state senators and local representatives need your support.”
The public was invited to a self-guided tour of the newly restored 35,000-square-foot building, the former F.W. Woolworth Building. Guests could download the augmented reality (AR) Zappar app on their smart-phones to the accompanying MCC brochure to watch video clips with the building’s history while on tour.
Dawn Hibbard, MCC marketing and communications specialist, said, “We are excited to be able to provide this AR experience and hope to be able to use this technology in our future orientations on the Mott Community College campus as well.”
Mott culinary faculty and students were stationed throughout the building to explain the various labs and their functions, and also served a variety of tasty food samples. Two such students were Tatashia Collins, in her first year in the introductory MCC culinary arts program, and Ethan Nartinbianca, a potential culinary student in his hopes to start in the fall.
Asked what she had enjoyed so far in the MCC culinary arts program, Collins said, “Learning all the names, all the soups and the different sauces and I can do this pretty easily and eating healthier.”
Nartinbianca, having attended Genesee Career Institute (GCI) skills center, said he found out about the Mott Community College culinary program among the many other culinary arts programs in the state.
Asked why he decided on MCC, he explained “I always loved cooking so I figured if I loved cooking I might-as-well make a career out of it and be the best cook whether for a restaurant or for my own family. I chose Mott to stay close to home…”
“…and it’s the best!” Collins chimed in. “And it’s the best!” Nartinbianca echoed with a smile.
More information is available at Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute website at https://www.mcc.edu/business/bus-culinary.shtml.
This story was updated June 10 to add information about the funding contribution from the C.S. Mott Foundation and to note ownership of the building by the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation.
Banner photo by Jeffery Carey.
EVM Staff Writer Darlene Carey can be reached at email@example.com.