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Northwestern University/Evanston Research Park (Evanston, Ill.)



In the early 1980s Northwestern University and the City of Evanston developed a joint project to lessen town-gown animosities to the benefit of both parties. The purpose of the Park was to provide needed jobs replacing those lost to companies leaving the area, increase the City of Evanston's tax base, increase University prestige in technological fields, promote intellectual creativity, as well as strengthen ties between academic researchers and industry. The park plan included a mixture of privately funded R&D offices and labs, the US Department of Energy’s Basic Industry Research Laboratory (BIRL), and the Basic Industry Research Institute (BIRI).

In March of 1984 the University and the City first laid out the research park proposal for local Congressman Sidney Yates. Yates succeeded in gaining funding for a federal laboratory next to the site when Congress passed the legislation on October 29, 1984. The plan called for a construction timetable of ten years with the total investment estimated at 400 million dollars, and a projected job creation of at least 4,000. Unlike many University-initiated research parks, the Evanston/Northwestern University Research Park plan did not emphasize high technology; instead the planners of the Park saw it as a place devoted primarily to basic research for “rust belt” industries, such as manufacturing. The Charles Shaw Company was the developer for the project until the 1990s.

BIRL, although the linchpin of the project, was not officially a part of the Park. It operated under a separate agreement between the University and the Department of Energy. Construction began in 1985 with the official groundbreaking in June of that year. It was made possible by a DOE grant of 26 million dollars. BIRL focused on Energy Conservation Research. This research lab became a source of controversy for some students since the agreement between the University and the Department of Energy did not preclude weapons research. In June of 1987, members of No Business As Usual (an anti-war group) staged a protest at Fountain Square. The students feared the lab might take part in Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars” research.

Before construction of the Park began there were efforts by a group of Evanston residents, called the Park Watch Coalition, to halt construction until an Environmental Impact Study could be completed. Park Watch believed that research at the Park might adversely impact the local environment. In 1986 they secured enough signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot. The initiative failed and construction went forward, with the groundbreaking of the first research building (1890 Maple Street) in April of 1988.

The third component of the Research Park plan was the BIRI – a renovation of existing facilities devoted to certain basic research and graduate training programs. The planners envisioned the BIRI as a place to increase the experience of graduate students with the real world application of the studies as well as expose them to scientists and others working within related industry.

As part of the development project, the City and the University set up a for profit corporation to implement the plan. They, along with the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, and Evanston’s ten largest employers, created a public-private partnership called Evanston Inventure to promote economic development in the Research Park area as well as the City in general.

At the outset of the park proposal many people held unrealistically high expectations for its impact on Evanston and even Illinois. When Shaw Co. finished 1890 Maple St. in the fall of 1988 the first tenant was the Institute for the Learning Sciences, a business interested in the development of Artificial Intelligence. A rehabilitated building on the site housed Northwestern’s Technology Innovation Center, a technology small business incubator. The three Shaw Co. multi-tenant buildings in the Park were filled by 1991, but no more space would be available due to the economic downturn retarding further construction. This lack of room for expansion led a number of Research Park tenants to leave the site. In 1993 the City authorized Balcor Co., a Chicago real estate management and development firm, to study the Park and submit plans for a new direction. Balcor Co. recommended that the southern end of the Park be opened up for commercial, retail, and residential development. As part of this new plan, the City sold off the southern end of the park in 1997 for the construction of 30 town homes. In the same year a commercial developer made an unsolicited bid to construct an “urban entertainment center” at the southern end of the site. The “center” would include a multi-screen movie theater, restaurants, a hotel, and shops. The University agreed to swap acreage it owned at the southern end of the site for land on the northern end of the site so that the city could oversee the commercial and retail area independently.

In the same year as the southern end of the Research Park site was shifting to retail and entertainment uses, BIRL stopped functioning as an applied research center when federal funding ended. It now holds part of the University’s technology incubator as well as other University services and programs.

As of 2004, the Evanston/Northwestern University Research Park looked very different than what was imagined in the early 1980s. BIRL was gone; many of the industry laboratories never appeared. A significant portion of what was originally part of the Research Park was developed into numerous shops and restaurants, including a Borders bookstore and a Wolf Gang Puck’s as well as a large parking garage and Hilton hotel. However, the Park does maintain some of its original focus, with the existence of the technology small business incubator. It also was successful in turning a 26-acre area of underused land in downtown Evanston into a rich source of income for the city as well promoting general economic growth in Evanston’s downtown.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Records of the Evanston/University Research Park

Identifier: 8/2/14
Abstract The Records of the Evanston/University Research Park, filling five boxes (including one half-sized box) document the planning, proposal, and site-purchase stages of the project. The materials reflect two stages of the project, with roughly two-thirds dating between 1984 and 1989 and one-third between 1994 and 1996. Records fall generally into the following categories: meeting materials; architectural, engineering and conceptual planning documents; purchase and closing documents, and...
Dates: 1984-1996; Agreement Received: 2000-10-02

Ronald Kysiak Papers

Identifier: 8/2/17

Urban planner Ronald Kysiak was the first Executive Director of the Evanston Economic Development Corporation, later known as "Evanston Inventure," and Vice President of the Northwestern/Evanston Research Park, which he had played a major role in developing. Papers document his career in several Evanston projects (1984-2010) as well as his research and involvement in urban planning projects elsewhere, and include biographical material, project files, and presentation/publications files.

Dates: 1973-2010; Other: Date acquired: 07/01/2013

Records of Evanston Inventure

Identifier: 55/46
Abstract The nonprofit partnership known as Evanston Inventure was formed in 1984 under Executive Director Ronald Kysiak so that  representatives of the largest public and private institutions in Evanston could work together to promote development of Evanston's Downtown Central Business District.  These records, for the years 1973 to 2010, include meeting minutes, correspondence, and general files documenting the studies, inter-partner relationships, accomplishments, and recommendations of the...
Dates: 1984-2010

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