U Of I, U Of C, Northwestern Plan $1.2 Billion Research Hub In South Loop

CHICAGO (CBS) — The University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University have teamed up to create what they hope will become the next big think tank in Chicago.

The $1.2 billion center would be built on a vacant 62-acre site in the South Loop, south of Roosevelt Road between Clark Street and the Chicago River.

According to the University of Illinois, Related Midwest owns the site where the project would be built, and has donated a portion of that land to help create the center as part of a larger mixed-use development on the site.

Dubbed the Discovery Partners Institute, the center would be used for specialized research in computing, big data, food and agriculture, and health and wellness.

Project leaders envision DPI as the hub of a statewide research network known as the Illinois Innovation Network. It would include “nodes” at all three University of Illinois campuses, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern; as well as at national labs, companies, and other facilities across the state.

The project has been patterned after similar public-private partnerships in Silicon Valley and in the Boston area near Harvard University.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel hope the center will stop the Midwest’s brain drain, which has seen many of the most highly-educated people move to New York, California, or Texas for jobs.

“I see this as a big win for the city of Chicago, and a big loss for the West Coast,” Emanuel said.

The governor’s office has said the state would help bankroll the project by selling the Thompson Center.

“Our number one goal must be to have the University of Illinois expand its impact, expand its opportunity here within the state of Illinois,” Rauner said.

The big question: was the sneak peak intended as much for Amazon as for us?

CBS 2’s Political Reporter Derrick Blakley takes a look.

The setting is iconic with the Willis Tower soaring in the background and the Chicago River flowing nearby.

“The point is to get our faculty and students intergrated into the economy,” Rauner said.

CBS: what can we expect to see by 2022?

“A million square feet, 90 new professors recruited just for this,” said Timothy Killeen, U of I President.

The goal: stop Illinois’ high-tech brain drain to Silicon Valley.

“They won’t have to go somewhere else to be part of the future. They’ll just do to a train stop away and be part of the future,” Emanuel said.

But, the site’s also long been rumored as a potential Amazon location.

“Amazon is extremely excited about this, but this really has nothing to do with Amazon per se. This is a pipeline for talent that can drive economic growth and raise competitiveness for every type of business,” Rauner said.

The property developer, Related Midwest, is donating land to the University of Illinois.

“Certainly, we could support Amazon and the school on this site,” said Curt Bailey, Relate Properties.

CBS: So, if amazon came to you and said, this is the site we’d want, you’d figure it out?

“If we have those type of problems, we’d probably get to a good solution, yeah,” he said.

The announcement comes on the last day for cities to apply for Amazon’s new second headquarters and its 50,000 jobs. And this sure looks like another powerful inducement: place your headquarters next door to a research center that is producing new ideas, new talent.

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