U. of I. issues new design for academic and research hub at The 78
Part of a $500 million statewide effort to promote innovation, the new home for the Discovery Partners Institute is expected to be finished in 2026.
Knowing that a casino won’t be a next-door neighbor, the University of Illinois and developer Related Midwest have laid out a new design and ambitions for the planned technology and research hub on the development site known as The 78.
The university’s Discovery Partners Institute will anchor the planned complex with a flashy new building on the southern portion of the 62-acre property, an old rail yard south of the Loop that has been vacant for decades. The 78 was a finalist site for a Chicago casino but wasn’t selected.
The DPI building has been trimmed slightly in size, with its bright steel-and-glass look simplified from an earlier, bulbous profile. But it still will provide about 200,000 square feet of office, lab and event space to support young researchers and business startups.
Under the new arrangement, it will be part of a five-building complex that will include a student union-type building for the U. of I., wet labs and other space leased to businesses, said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest. He said construction should start in 2024, with completion in 2026.
Bailey acknowledged when a casino was in the mix, it complicated matters for U. of I. officials, who wondered if gambling and entertainment would mesh well with academics. “Certainly, there were factions of the group that had concerns about that,” Bailey said.
However, he said the prospect of a casino generated attention and excitement about The 78. Without a casino, the university was eager to expand its plans, he said. “I liken it to running a marathon and not winning. Even though you didn’t win, you trained and you’re in good shape,” Bailey said.
The additional commercial buildings will be grouped along The 78’s riverfront and will include attractions such as a brewpub for students’ study breaks, Bailey said.
The DPI building is part of a $500 million state pledge to build innovation centers at public universities statewide. Planners hope the facilities bring more people into technological and scientific research — and that they put their degrees to work in Illinois instead of other states. The U. of I. also is committing $500 million, a sum that includes private donations, making the total outlay $1 billion.
Bill Jackson, executive director of DPI, confirmed Bailey’s point that the possibility of a casino affected the university’s plans. “It caused some pause but not worry,” he said. “We worked our way through it with Related and Related has been a great partner.”
Jackson said the new DPI building will save more than $80 million compared with a prior design and is now budgeted at about $300 million, subject to change because of inflation. He said the university’s financial role in the four additional buildings is to be determined.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, in announcing the revised plans Friday, said it would produce a world-class innovation hub in the heart of Chicago. Before becoming governor, the billionaire was a prime organizer and funder of technology hub 1871 and the startups that came from it.
The eight-story DPI buildingwill create connections to the neighboring communities and future phases of The 78, officials said. The base will include space available to the public and include a café and auditorium. Its entry will be near 15th and Wells streets.
The architectural firms OMA and Jacobs collaborated on the design. The landscape will feature a Richard Hunt sculpture.
The 78 is bounded by Roosevelt Road, Clark Street, 16th Street and the South Branch of the Chicago River.
“DPI’s ambition is to propel Chicago forward toward its destiny as the preeminent and inclusive tech city built on partnerships,” said Tim Killeen, president of the U. of I. System.
Jackson said he’s particularly fond of a central atrium in the DPI design that will provide space for students, faculty and researchers to interact. “Our architects describe our central atrium as an ‘active collision zone,’ and I love that,” Jackson said.
Bailey said the research center will generate interest in residential development, which he envisions as a later phase of growth at The 78. He said he plans a residential building that would appeal to students and faculty attracted to DPI.
DPI also announced partnerships with technology service firm Interapt and CVS Health. It will lead to a program providing up to 2,500 individuals with tuition-free technology training and paid apprenticeships. CVS said it will hire 200 enrollees over the next three years.