U of I issues new design for academic and research hub at The 78

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 that 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 U of I pledge to build innovation centers at public universities statewide. Planners hope the facilities will bring more people into technological and scientific research and that they will put their degrees to work in Illinois instead of other states.

University officials were not immediately available to comment on how the casino affected their plans.

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.

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.

A new rendering shows an aerial view of development on The 78, including the curved building for the Discovery Partners Institute.

A rendering of an aerial view of development on The 78, including the curved building for the Discovery Partners Institute.

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