The megadevelopment known as The 78 took a big step forward Wednesday as Illinois Gov. JB Pritizker announced he’s releasing state money for a marquee project in the new Chicago neighborhood just south of downtown.
In all, the Democratic governor announced he’s releasing $500 million for a statewide technology and workforce development effort led by the University of Illinois. Of that, $235 million will go to the construction of the Discovery Partners Institute, a 500,000-square-foot research and development campus located in The 78.
The money had been allocated by Pritizker’s predecessor, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, and was meant to match private donations. So far, Pritzker said the university system has raised $230 million in private money.
“The commitment [Pritzker’s] making today will turbocharge these efforts, helping us attract even more private support,” said University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen.
But the Discovery Partners Institute is just one piece of The 78. The $7-billion megadevelopment will also include offices, retail shops, housing and 12 acres of open space.
The massive redevelopment project was pushed forward by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wanted to see the 62-acre property along the South Branch of the Chicago River brought back to life.
“Rahm can be relentless when he wants something done, and I started getting calls from him to support this project long before I became governor and he hasn’t stopped calling,” Pritzker said. “I’m grateful that the many phone calls from him might now subside.”
Before leaving office, Emanuel pushed the controversial redevelopment agreement for The 78 through the Chicago City Council. Under the terms, the city will reimburse Related Midwest, the developer, approximately $550 million once construction is completed.
The city money will be generated using a tax increment financing district. It’ll go toward moving the existing Metra tracks, building a new CTA Red Line stop at 15th and Clark and a new bridge at 15th Street and reconstructing the riverfront seawalls.
Critics of the project say it should not have gotten that boost from city taxpayers and many worry the megadevelopment will drive up housing costs in the surrounding neighborhoods and exacerbate inequality.
Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, called The 78 Chicago’s “next great neighborhood” and said the company is committed to ensuring “communities that have been left out of Chicago’s economic prosperity finally share in it.”
In December, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the creation of a Community Advisory Council for The 78, which is supposed to let residents give input as construction moves forward. On Wednesday, she said the city is still in the process of identifying people to serve on those committees, which will meet quarterly.
“We’re anxious to get that process up and running as quickly as possible,” Lightfoot said.
Becky Vevea covers city of Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.