Governor JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a host of other business and educational leaders from across Chicago on Friday unveiled the design for the Discovery Partners Institute at the University of Illinois, the centerpiece of The 78, a new neighborhood set to rise on vacant lots. southwest of the center.
The research organization’s $250 million headquarters has been touted as the future crown jewel of a growing ecosystem of labs and high-tech facilities, a center that officials say would boost job growth and stop Chicago’s “brain drain” of skilled tech workers.
“The new DPI headquarters will house offices, classrooms, labs and event spaces along the Chicago River, turning a long-vacated old railroad yard into a world-class talent and innovation powerhouse with an aesthetic to match,” said Pritzker.
“This will cement our place as a Tier 1 tech community,” added Lightfoot.
The 78 developer Related Midwest plans to begin construction on DPI and four other buildings, including offices, wet lab space and a college student center in 2024, and complete all of them by 2026, according to company president Curt Bailey.
It will be the first steps taken to fill the empty 62-acre riverfront site between Roosevelt Road to the north and Chinatown’s Ping Tom Memorial Park to the south, and the university institute should attract companies willing to recruit students and researchers, he added. up.
“The DPI becomes the driver, the engine that makes things happen,” he said. “This will be one of the most incredible opportunities in the country for a tech company to move to an urban environment.”
OMA New York architect Christy Cheng said the design of the eight-story glass and steel dome reflects DPI’s mission to attract people from all walks of life, including college students and those with doctorates. The ground floor will be open on all sides and welcoming to passers-by, with no front or back door. The interior will not be segregated in any way, with classrooms and research areas all mixed in, and a central atrium will act as a meeting space, where high school students can meet and interact with Nobel Prize winners.
The state has donated $500 million to help fund DPI, along with a network of research hubs at other universities in Illinois. And officials say they expect it to form a core that keeps promising researchers and start-ups from leaving the state once they reach a certain level of success and need the kind of venture capital found in places like Silicon Valley if they want to. continue growing.
“That’s an unfortunate trend and we need to turn it around,” said Tim Killeen, president of the University of Illinois System. “It’s not just a brain drain; the dollars are going away.”
The lab, research, and office spaces at DPI give entrepreneurs the chance to start small and turn ideas developed at any university in the region, not just the University of Illinois, into new businesses that graduate into larger spaces and more raising funding, he added. It’s an opportune time, as high housing and other living costs on the coasts are squeezing struggling entrepreneurs.
“I think the coasts are a bit drained at the moment,” he said. “So I think this is a big opportunity for the center of the country.”
DPI is already working across the state, tracking the spread of COVID-19 through wastewater analysis and training hundreds of students each year in technical fields, according to Killeen. It will soon expand its training programs to serve nearly 1,000 students per year.
That could help build pipelines between tech companies and communities where tech jobs have been scarce, said Zaldwaynaka Scott, president of Chicago State University, a predominantly black school on the city’s south side.
“It gives our students the opportunity to engage with the tech industry in a real and meaningful way,” she said.