After three years of planning and construction, the City of Charlotte and an environmental group have completed the conversion of a former municipal garage into what is expected to be an incubator for environmentally friendly businesses.
The Innovation Barn officially opened with a private party on Friday and an open house on Saturday.
The city spent nearly $ 5 million to renovate the old building on Seigle Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood. It is a joint effort with Imagine Charlotte, which will manage the building as a showcase for what he calls âthe circular economyâ.
Traditional businesses in the so-called âlinear economyâ take raw materials and turn them into products that end up in landfills – by design. In the circular economy, the goal is zero waste. Everything is reused either by the company itself or by others
The idea behind the Innovation Barn is to create jobs while developing businesses that reuse waste.
“If you can keep things out of the landfill, you can turn them into innovations, which turn into jobs,” Amy Aussieker, executive director of Envision Charlotte, said on Saturday during a tour of the building. âAnd so when you tell the city leaders that you can take trash and create jobs. They say, ‘Oh, here we are. Sign us up. “”
Two years ago, local environmentalists and some municipal staff expressed reservations on the cost and intention of the project. The Innovation Barn ended up costing double the original budget approved by Charlotte City Council and opened two years later than planned.
It’s mostly a demonstration project at the moment. There’s a glass bottle sprayer that turns bottles into sand for concrete and gardening, a plastics lab that can recycle plastic food containers and other plastics that aren’t recycled in Mecklenburg County, and an educational kitchen and an event space.
But a few tenants are already using circular economy tactics.
Carolina Urban Lumber has a showroom for its one-of-a-kind tables and coats created from trees cut at local construction sites.
âWe’re trying to partner with developers, tree services, even homeowners who are going to cut down a tree and throw it away or throw it away, or chop it up, or not use it,â said Damon Barron, Managing Director by Carolina Urban Lumber. “And we’ve tried using it for furniture, or we have wood products that we sell in our store in Pineville.”
And there are benefits for other Innovation Barn tenants. Sawdust from his workshop can be used by MUSH, a mushroom grower, and Crown Town Composting, who mixes it with food waste. The black soldier fly larvae in the compost then become food for the fish that grow in a huge tank at 100 Gardens, an education-focused aquaponics garden. As the fish grow, their nutrient-filled wastewater is used to grow lettuce.
âYou grow plants, you grow animals in a symbiotic relationship. And it’s just a great way to practically teach kids anything they want to learn anyway,â said Charles Oliphant of 100 Gardens. . The association sets up aquaponics projects in schools.
Even the renovation itself played the recycling game, said Elizabeth Hamilton of Progressive AE Architecture, who helped design the building.
âWhen we designed the barn, the idea of ââthe circular economy was important,â said Hamilton. âSo even the doors to this building are construction waste from other sites. The concrete we used has a high recycled content. It even contains a bit of what the old parking lot was. has crushed glass from the waste stream here in Mecklenburg County. “
Meanwhile, because Charlotte residents love their drinks, the Innovation Barn also has a cafe called Crane Coffee and a craft beer and wine bar called RePour which is open Friday through Sunday.
About half of the 36,000 square foot building has been renovated so far. The Innovation Barn is always on the lookout for corporate sponsors and other potential tenants of the circular economy.