Related Midwest said February 12 that construction of The 78 mega-development along the Chicago River will start in early 2021, with a nearly 3 million-sq-ft first phase that will include apartments, student housing, retail space and a University of Illinois-led innovation center. The total cost of the project is expected to reach $7 billion with the first phase taking up $2 billion of that.

The new riverfront neighborhood—master planned by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—seeks to turn a long-vacant 62-acre site in the city's South Loop into a mixed-use community and extend Chicago’s central business district southward into an area previously zoned and known for industrial parks and long-shuttered businesses such as the Union Stockyards. The 78 would stretch from the South Loop to Chinatown along the river. SOM's lead designer on the project is partner Phil Enquist. STL Architects is also on the design team.

The $2-billion first phase involves 1.5 million sq ft of loft-style and high-rise office space; 700,000 sq ft of apartments and student housing; 100,000 sq ft of fitness, retail, hotel, restaurant, retail and cultural space; and the University of Illinois System’s Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) for a total of 2.8 million sq ft. Related said it plans to complete the first phase, mostly at the north end of the site, by 2024. The developer says there are plans for approximately 10 million sq ft of building projects for future phases.

"Chicago is thrilled to be taking this important next step with DPI, Governor [J.B.] Pritzker and Related Midwest in developing a state-of-the-art innovation hub that will drive cutting-edge technology advancements and propel growth and opportunity throughout our city and entire region," said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at an announcement event.

At the news conference at the site, Illinois Gov. Pritzker (D) said he would release $500 million in state funding, which was originally approved by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in 2018 after the University of Illinois raised $230 million from the private sector. The plan calls for private funding to match the state’s contribution. Related, which owns the entire 62-acre site, donated the land for the DPI, which is part of the Illinois Innovation Network and funded through a combination of private and public funds.

The project's first phase also will include infrastructure improvements such as the Wells-Wentworth Connector road, adding LaSalle and 15th street extensions through the site and the relocation and enclosure of suburban rail Metra tracks and reconstruction of the riverfront's seawall. The Chicago Dept. of Transporation has already begun construction on the Wells-Wentworth Connector.

The institute will focus on areas such as data analytics and computing, and it will have about 2,000 students on-site annually, according to Related.

“Our vision for The 78 is to create Chicago’s next great neighborhood,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest. “With a dynamic phase one 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."