Innovation Partnership Launches, But Who’s Paying?

A proposed research institute to be helmed by the University of Illinois on donated land in the South Loop that’s slated for a major redevelopment will anchor a public-private state-backed “innovation network” launched Thursday by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The effort, promoted by Rauner as a “transformative” for the economy and a catalyst for hundreds of thousands of new jobs, was announced as Chicago and Illinois vie to land Amazon’s second headquarters—bids are due Thursday, though the city and state’s joint application was sent earlier this week. Details of that bid haven’t been disclosed, but according to a press release, the new venture is part of it.

Rauner indicated that Amazon is aware of the project, saying that the e-commerce giant, like other businesses that have been apprised of it, are “excited” by it.

  • 78 Crescent Park concept (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect ASGG)

    78 Crescent Park concept (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect ASGG)

  • 78 education hub and riverwalk concept (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect 3XN)

    78 education hub and riverwalk concept (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect 3XN)

  • 78 riverwalk concept, looking north (Rendering by DBOX, master plan architect SOM)

    78 riverwalk concept, looking north (Rendering by DBOX, master plan architect SOM)

  • 78 riverwalk concept, looking south (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect Hollwich Kushner)

    78 riverwalk concept, looking south (Rendering by ICON, master plan architect SOM, contributions by architect Hollwich Kushner)

  • Related Midwest 78 (Credit: Mark Segal)

    Related Midwest 78 (Credit: Mark Segal)

Rauner, a Republican who is up for re-election next year, has long had a vision for a vast joint enterprise linking higher education institutions with private businesses. The Illinois Innovation Network (IIN) is touted as a $1.2 billion statewide venture focused on “the development of solutions in computing and big data, advanced materials, food and agriculture, and biosciences and health.”

Titans of tech and business joined Rauner, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and University of Illinois Systems President Tim Killeen to endorse the endeavor at press conference on the now-vacant land abutting the Chicago River at Clark Street and Roosevelt Road where the Discovery Partners Institute, or DPI, is planned to be built. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University signed on as DPI partners.

Their collective presence signals potential for financial backing, but even as the DPI is touted as the “centerpiece” of the $1.2 billion IIN, a surefire funding source is elusive.

Rauner has indicated he wants public dollars to be committed, even as he says the state’s current budget is out of balance. A years-long funding impasse likewise stunted the state higher education system, as public universities went prolonged periods without any state support. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky


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