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The 78 megadevelopment prepares to break ground, starting with U of I innovation center

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The massive project essentially creates a new neighborhood on Chicago’s Near South Side

A row to tall buildings stands next to shorter buildings and a river in an urban setting.
An updated rendering of The 78 showing the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) at the riverfront site’s southern edge.
Related Midwest

The 62-acre riverfront megadevelopment known as The 78 will begin work on its first batch of new buildings within the next 12 months, developer Related Midwest announced alongside Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday.

The first phase will be anchored by a University of Illinois-affiliated research facility known as the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI). First announced in 2017 by then-Governor Bruce Rauner, the 500,000-square-foot innovation center is ready to move forward thanks to $235 million in state funding and a letter of intent to build its facility on land donated by Related.

A key component of The 78—which takes its name from Chicago’s current count of 77 community areas—will be constructing roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks to the empty Near South Side land.

Phase one of the project calls for 3 million square feet of buildings and includes a mix of apartments, student housing, and commercial space. Masterplanned by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the full $7 billion development is zoned for a whopping 13 million square feet with high-rises climbing as high as 950 feet. Related is targeting completion of phase one in 2024, and the entire project could take 10 to 20 years to complete.

The 78 was one of several near downtown sites pitched to Amazon during the city’s bid for the company’s HQ2 campus. Though the tech giant ultimately passed on Chicago, the project’s developers see the site as a catalyst for technology-related jobs. They expect the campus to support 40,000 direct STEM and data-related positions over the next decade, according to a statement.

“Our vision for The 78 is to create Chicago’s next great neighborhood,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, in a statement. “With a dynamic phase one plan that includes DPI as its centerpiece, we’re showing how a 21st-century work-live-play community, created from the ground-up and connected to so many vibrant areas, will bring new opportunities to all of Chicago.”

Work is currently underway on the new north-south roadway known as Wells-Wentworth Connector. Other significant changes include an upcoming realignment of the Metra tracks running along the site’s eastern edge, improvements to the riverbank, and a new $365 million CTA Red Line subway station at the corner of Clark and 15th streets.

Up to $700 million in public Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds will support those improvements, under a deal forged in the final days of Rahm Emanuel’s administration. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has promised to reform Chicago’s TIF system, ultimately put her support behind The 78’s TIF agreement after securing a commitment from the developers to employ more minority- and women-owned construction firms. Lightfoot has also created a community advisory council that will help guide the direction of future phases of The 78.

“DPI’s decision to anchor in Chicago is a vote of confidence in the talent of our people and strength of our diverse, local economy, and we look forward to collaborating with them on our shared goals of developing inclusive, long-term economic growth through an array of investments that will create jobs, start companies, and help shape the future of our city for generations to come,” said Lightfoot in a statement Wednesday.

A glassy cube-shaped building with an angular cut-out carved through its base.
A conceptual rendering of the Discovery Partners Institute by STL Architects.
Related Midwest