The 78 Chicago — The Huge Plan for Downtown That Actually Could Happen

Over the last couple of years, Chicago’s traditional and new media have been ablaze with huge headlines about massive bigger real estate development projects all over town.  While most are eager to print even the most fanciful claims and screwball ideas just to generate clicks, we take a more measured approach around here.

With a logo straight outta 1978, it's comfortably neo post retro. (Screenshot)

With a logo straight outta 1978, it’s comfortably neo post retro. (Screenshot)

Which is why it’s refreshing to bring you news of The 78 — an enormous institutional research nexus planned for the South Loop that actually has a very good chance of happening.  Though the politicians backing it are quick to point out that it depends, in part, on private donations and funding, this is one of the few big new projects that stands a snocone’s chance in Little Italy.

Governor Bruce Rauner made the official announcement about the project in the wasteland just south of Roosevelt Road along the Chicago River this morning.  He was flanked by politicians of lesser stature, as well as representatives from Related Midwest, upon whose wide acres the acorns of innovation will be planted.

The 78 Chicago screenshot

In this portion of The 78’s promotional video, we see that it has convenient CTA Red, Orange, and Green Line access; seasonal water taxi service (yellow); and distant South Shore interurban love (cyan). The pink line which bypasses the site is certainly not a subliminal message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the RTA that this would be a good place for a new Metra station.

When we first reported on this yesterday, things were a little muddy.  Now that everything is official, it makes a bit more sense.  So, follow along and we’ll work through this together:

  • The 78 is the new name for the 62 acres of fallow ground between Roosevelt Road and Chinatown owned by Related Midwest.  People who like to note its political past sometimes call it Rezkoland.  (If you don’t know why, Google is your friend.)  Related likes “The 78” because it reinforces the notion that it could someday be recognized as Chicago’s 78th neighborhood.
  • The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) is a research quango that will conduct research with the aim of turning ideas from academia into real-world ideas, products, and benefits.  Think of it as a miniature version of Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.  On the institutional side are The University of Illinois, The University of Chicago, and Northwestern University.  On the corporate side… we’re still in wait-and-see mode.  The DPI will occupy an unspecified portion of The 78 — land that will be donated by Related Midwest.
  • The DPI is the first part of the Illinois Innovation Network, which will eventually have campuses across the state.

So if you’re not a researcher working on “computing and big data, food and agriculture, and health and wellness,” what’s in it for you?  How about a nice new section of Chicago Riverwalk?  We’re talking a half-mile long and one hundred feet wide.

Also on offer are a lot of pretty new buildings.   As Related likes to tout, this is a blank slate for development.  It’s hired famed former Chicago architecture firm SOM to design the project, and has a history of fostering good architecture, from One Bennett Park near Navy Pier to its sister architecture petting zoo known as Hudson Yards on the west side of Manhattan.  It’s not unreasonable to expect great things here.

At this point, a word of caution is in order.  There are a lot of renderings of this project around.  But don’t get too attached to them.  Remember, this project is still in its infancy.  It hasn’t been funded on either the public or the private side.  And Related Midwest still hasn’t decided how much land it’s going to hand over to DPI/IIN/MOUSE.  But again, with names like Related and SOM on the tote board, there’s no reason not to expect something above average.

As always, the press release follows the pictures.

Related’s The 78 to Be Site of Planned Discovery Partners Institute

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner reveals innovation plan with University of Illinois System; Related donates land to jump-start project

CHICAGO (Oct. 19, 2017) – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen today unveiled plans for an interdisciplinary public-private research and innovation center known as the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) at The 78, a mixed-use, master-planned development by Related Midwest. The new facility is planned to be developed on a donated portion of the 62-acre site bordered by Roosevelt Road, Clark Street, 16th Street and the Chicago River in downtown Chicago. In selecting The 78, DPI will anchor a new neighborhood offering dynamic residential, commercial, academic, civic, cultural and recreational experiences.

DPI is the inaugural step in the development of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), which will join businesses, public sector partners and research universities to focus on the study of computing and big data, food and agriculture, and health and wellness. Led by the U of I System, with its campuses in Champaign, Springfield and Chicago, DPI will bring students, world-class faculty and businesses together to share ideas and take them into their respective communities.
“DPI will help drive economic growth for generations,” said Gov. Rauner. “It combines our state’s most valuable resources in education, technology and business so we can attract venture capital to build the businesses – and jobs – of the future.”

“This campus for innovation, anchored by the University of Illinois, will be a transformative force on the South Side of Chicago and for all of Chicago,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I look forward to working with the Governor and the many partners involved as we turn this vision into a reality.”

The 78, in development by Related Midwest, is master-planned in partnership with world-renowned architecture firm SOM and calls for a curated mix of residential, commercial, institutional, cultural and recreational uses, including 40 percent green and open space and a half-mile of developed riverfront that will expand the city’s existing Riverwalk. An extension of Chicago’s central business district, The 78 will connect to the downtown core via the new Wells-Wentworth Connector and to the entire city via bike-friendly streets and proximity to all major transit lines.

“Leveraging Related’s extensive experience in international placemaking, The 78 will be a transformative downtown neighborhood designed to respond to the rapidly changing demands of future generations, making it the ideal location for a dynamic institute like DPI,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest. “Research, education and innovation are guiding principles for The 78 – one of the largest and most ambitious projects ever conceived in Chicago – so when we learned of the U of I System’s mission, we were eager to not just support it, but accelerate it by providing a blank canvas on which the institute can be developed.”

The $1.2 billion DPI will be operated through private donations, government support and partnerships with business and industry. The size of the institute’s site on The 78 is still to be determined, and the university will work in conjunction with Related Midwest’s design and development teams to determine the exact location. An implementation plan that will include a timetable for the opening is expected to be complete next year.

“The 78 will provide students, faculty and corporate partners with a world-class setting in which they can live, study and work – ultimately pairing graduates with high-quality jobs within the immediate neighborhood as leading employers establish a presence there,” Bailey said. “By fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and creating an urban experience unlike any other in the country, our hope is that students, including those from out of state, will decide to remain in Chicago – and The 78 in particular – long after they finish their studies, in some cases starting their own business enterprises that will contribute to our city’s diverse economy.”

At full operation, DPI plans to have as many as 90 faculty members – sourced from the U of I System’s three universities as well as partner institutions – and approximately 1,800 graduate and undergraduate students who will spend one to four semesters living in Chicago while working at DPI and other businesses throughout the city. In connecting students with top research faculty in agriculture, healthcare, computing and other critical fields, as well as with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, DPI will promote cutting-edge research and product development designed to address real-world challenges facing the city and state.

“This unique new institute will add to the momentum that has been developing in Chicago to create an innovation infrastructure at the kind of scale that can massively accelerate progress and economic development in our state,” Killeen said. “It will build on the U of I System’s long, rich history of pioneering innovation, and a legacy of service to Illinois and to this global city that dates back more than a century.”


Location: 1331 South Lumber Street, South Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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