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Gigabit grant targets Chicago-Main

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Gov. Pat Quinn visited the Evanston library's new branch at Chicago and Main this morning to tout a $1 million state high-speed internet grant that city officials hope will help build an "innovation corridor" centered on the intersection.

The grant will enable internet connections at gigabit speed — about 100 times faster than current typical residential high-speed connections — for businesses in the area.

Quinn said the grant would be crucial to helping attract entrepreneurs who create jobs. "To compete in the 21st century economy, we must have technology infrastructure that is second to none," the governor said.

Northwestern University and the city are partnering to provide the service, using fiber optic cable connections to the global internet backbone that the university already has.

Top: Gov. Quinn. Above: NU President Morton Schapiro.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said the grant would help encourage student entrepreneurs to stay in the community after graduation, rather than moving to Silicon Valley in California or the Route 128 tech corridor in Massachusetts.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said details of how the program will operate have yet to be worked out, and it's not yet clear how far the service will be able to be extended with the available funds.

Jonathan Madziarczyk, network administrator in the city's information technology division, said it costs between $20 and $100 a foot just to put the fiber optic cable in the ground.

It's roughly a quarter mile from the nearest existing link, at the city's Fire Station #2, to the Chicago Avenue and Main Street intersection.

Pricing of the service to business users also has not been determined.

John O'Donnell, the developer of a planned 175,000 square foot office building at Chicago and Main, said the gigabit internet service would help attract high-tech tenants to the site.

John O'Donnell of office building developer O'Donnell Investment Company.

O'Donnell said he is making progress in negotiations with prospective tenants and now expects to begin construction on the $30 million project in the third quarter of this year, with completion before the end of 2014.

Eric Harper, co-founder of coLab Evanston, a collaborative workspace for startup businesses located next to the library branch, said, "Gigabit will be a key benefit we offer as we strive to create an environment where ideas can turn into reality."

Gov. Quinn speaks with Eric Harper of coLab after the news conference.

The City Council is scheduled to vote later this month on plans to create a tax increment financing district to spur development in the Chicago-Main business district.

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