Related Midwest, the Chicago-based arm of New York real estate development firm Related Companies, has revealed concrete design details for the first phase of its The 78 project, a 62-acre “vibrant, mixed-use community” (according to the developer) that’s poised to transform a long-vacant riverside parcel along Chicago’s South Loop. A Related megadevelopment through and through, it’s tempting to compare this $7 billion built-from-scratch neighborhood—master-planned by Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—as the Windy City’s answer to the shiny, supertall-stuffed Hudson Yards enclave that opened last year on the far western fringes of Manhattan. And there are myriad similarities, minus any climbable sculptures for now, anyway. Yet whereas at the heart of the critically walloped Hudson Yards was a luxury shopping mall and a Björk-christened arts center, the focal point of The 78, in its first phase at least, will be focused on research and innovation in the form of a world-class new home for the University of Illinois’ Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), which is part of the Illinois Innovation Network. In a press statement, Related Midwest credited DPI for helping to “set the stage for The 78’s future as a global technology and innovation hub.” Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, described the project as such:
“Our vision for The 78 is to create Chicago’s next great neighborhood. With a dynamic Phase 1 plan that includes DPI as its centerpiece, we’re showing how a 21st-century neighborhood, created from the ground-up and connected to so many exceptional areas, will bring new opportunities to all of Chicago. DPI’s organizational model will drive long-term innovation across critical growth industries and draw corporate tenants, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists— from across Chicago and around the globe to The 78, where they will find top talent, groundbreaking research and new technologies that support future expansion.”Joining the 50,000 square-foot DPI campus in Phase 1 will be 1.5 million square feet of office space spread across a mix of high-rise and “loft-style” buildings; 700,000 square feet of residential space, with 20 percent of that earmarked for affordable housing, and 100,000 square feet dedicated to eateries, shops, hotels, and fitness locations. Phase 1 also marks the beginnings of what will eventually amount to 12 acres of publicly-accessible green space woven throughout The 78. This includes 5 acres of Crescent Park, a curvy 7-acre urban refuge/outdoor recreation hotspot following the natural path of the Chicago River. Various infrastructural tweaks are set to begin within the next year as part of Phase 1. They include appending and renovating streets, as well as reconstruction of the Chicago River Seawall. Work is already underway on the Wells-Wentworth Connector, a pedestrian-centric main street of sorts with protected bike lanes that will link The 78 with adjacent neighborhoods. Envisioned as a southward extension of Chicago’s central business district, The 78}s name is a reference to the development’s future status as the newest community to join Chicago’s 77 established neighborhoods. As for the DPI's new home, the “state-of-the-art immersion facility” will be nestled on land donated by Related Midwest along the Chicago River between Crescent Park and bustling Wells Street on the Loop’s northern edge. STL Architects, the Chicago-based firm behind the DPI complex's initial conceptual renderings, noted that the building’s “distinct” design was directly inspired by its park-flanked riverfront location. Sporting a central atrium that will act as an indoor public square, the building is intended to foster social interaction between students, and the facility is expected to attract 2,000 of them annually from the U.S. and abroad. Per Related Midwest, academic activities at DPI will initially zero in on “applying the Illinois economy’s existing strengths in data analytics and computing to drive innovation in food and agriculture; environment and water; health and wellness; transportation and logistics; and finance and insurance.” In addition to creating 9,000 permanent jobs, Phase 1 of The 78 is expected to generate over 9,500 construction, trade, and professional services jobs. It’s slated for completion in 2024.