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Amazon site options include ‘The 78’ — where Rauner wants research hub

Looking south at acreage at the southwest corner of Clark and Roosevelt. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday released a list of locations proposed in the city and state’s bid for Amazon’s coveted second headquarters, and it includes “The 78” — a 62-acre South Loop site, where the governor hopes to build a $1.2 billion research and innovation center.

The governor’s office on Wednesday said the research center was “referenced” in the bid, but did not specify at the time that it was being offered as a proposed site for Amazon.

A news release from City Hall listed the 10 areas that could host the Amazon headquarters. The release acknowledges that “The 78” — so-named because it is touted as the city’s 78th neighborhood — is also the area where the University of Illinois envisions putting its ambitious research institute.

And there apparently could be room for both.

Both the mayor’s office and governor’s office said “The 78” was not mentioned as an Amazon proposed site during a Thursday press conference because bids were still open in competing cities. The deadline was midnight Friday. The city and state bid was submitted on Monday.

Aerial view of South Loop site of The 78, proposed University of Illinois research center. Photo by Mark Segal. Courtesy of Related Midwest.

“The 78 is the largest undeveloped parcel of land in downtown Chicago, this 62-acre site represents one of the most ambitious and transformative development projects in Chicago’s history with unparalleled access to Chicago’s riverfront entertainment and recreation,” according to the release. “It is also the site where the University of Illinois System envisions its Discovery Partners Institute, a collaboration of research universities, businesses and public-sector partners to spur growth in the Illinois economy.”

Josh Ellis, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said officials could make “The 78” work.

“Sixty-two acres is pretty big,” Ellis said. “That’s close to the size of the rest of the South Loop. It could very well fit Amazon’s campus.”

A source close to the bid said state and city leaders included tax incentives in their pitch, but officials have not outlined numbers. New Jersey officials are dangling $7 billion in tax credits to lure the web giant to Newark, and other cities desperate for economic growth are expected to follow suit.

Other sites in the bid include “The Downtown Gateway District,” with its “move-in” ready buildings including the Willis Tower, an “over-site development” at Union Station, and the old main Post Office straddling Congress Parkway, where Amazon’s move could be well-timed. Last summer, Emanuel’s bold threat to seize control of the post office culminated in a court-approved agreement with its new owner, 601W Companies LLC, to begin a five-year, $500 million renovation and restoration.

Officials are also touting a “city center campus,” another move-in ready plan using existing buildings in the heart of the Loop.

More options include Lincoln Yards, over 70 riverfront acres between Bucktown and Lincoln Park; and The River District, described as a “new neighborhood” in Chicago’s “city center” anchored by 37 acres of riverfront land.

The other sites are Fulton Market, the Illinois Medical District and Burnham Lakefront, extending from McCormick Place to the 31st Street Beach and Marina — options that would require some significant construction.

Rendering of proposed education hub and riverwalk. Supplied by marketing and communication for Related Midwest.

Suburban offerings include Schaumburg, near the global headquarters for Motorola; and Oak Brook, at the old McDonald’s headquarters. Those options could be attractive to Amazon if the company wants a move-in ready site that has hosted corporate campuses before, according to Ellis. He said there weren’t any surprises in the pitch.

“These locations all have merits in one sense or another. No matter what, with these city sites that will be built from scratch, you’re going to have to build up. We’d see taller buildings, densely packed.”

There were other sites some aldermen had in mind that didn’t make the cut, like the massive South Works site on the Far South Side. Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said last month she hoped the mayor would pitch the site.

“We’re ten miles from the Loop. You’re right on the water. You have the rail…And the cost of living is more affordable here,” she said last month. “Millennials might like the action [downtown], but we can make the action with 480 acres.”

Reached on Friday Garza said she was disappointed at the limited offerings on the South Side.

“Unfortunately that’s not the South Side,” Garza said of the 31st Street offering. “The South Side goes a lot farther than 31st.”

Requirements for the bid included being near a metropolitan area with more than a million people; being able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the new headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade. That’s about the same size as its current home in Seattle.

Related Midwest, the development company that owns “The 78” site, declined to comment on Friday about the possibility that the land is included in the city and state’s Amazon sales pitch.