In a presentation heavy on hoopla but light on concrete details, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday announced plans for a $1.2 billion innovation and research center on a 62-acre parcel of long vacant land in the South Loop.
Standing in the middle of the dusty, weedy parcel of land where the so-called Discovery Partners Institute is planned, Emanuel and Rauner called it a game changer.
“I see this as a big win for the city of Chicago and a big loss for the West Coast,” Emanuel told a crowd of business leaders, academics and other invited guests.
But neither Emanuel nor the governor would say, while talking to reporters later Thursday, when ground might be broken on the facility or how it would be financed, which is touted as a public-private partnership.
Emanuel said, “The governor is leading that effort, and I’m supportive of that effort.”
As for Rauner, he said, “Lots and lots of options. We haven’t started any really focused fundraising yet. Right now we’re laying out the vision.”
Several speakers Thursday laid out that vision in the grandest terms, with Tim Killeen, the president of the University of Illinois — the institution that will anchor the institute — saying “DPI will deliver a high-powered jolt … at the kind of scale that can massively accelerate job creation and economic development.”
The institute is expected to draw dozens of the world’s top researchers, as well as students from the U of I, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, planners say. The site is eventually expected to include a park, a river walk as well as residences and commercial space.
A “timetable for the opening” is expected some time next year, according to press release.
The sprawling South Loop site has a long and checkered history of unrealized plans and colorful owners, including convicted felon Tony Rezko and an Iraq-born British businessman who got caught up in a corruption scandal in France.
Over the past quarter century, proposals for the site have included a theme park and up to five gambling boats docked on a manmade body of water adjacent to the Chicago River, a mixed-use development with with homes and retail space and at one point IKEA — none of which came to fruition.