Evanston to use $1 million grant to add ultra high-speed Internet, appeal to entrepreneurs


Manuel Rapada/Daily Senior Staffer

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $1 million state grant to provide ultra high-speed internet infrastructure in Evanston on Friday. The city and NU teamed up to submit a proposal to the Illinois Gigabit Community Challenge.

Manuel Rapada, City Editor

Evanston received a $1 million state grant to turn the city into a “gigabit community” that can attract entrepreneurs, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Friday.

A bevy of aldermen, businessmen and Northwestern students joined Quinn behind the podium at the Chicago Main library, 900 Chicago Ave. The city’s grant is the third awarded through the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge, which aims to provide ultra-fast high-speed internet access.

“We are here at the creation of Evanston’s innovation corridor,” said Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), whose ward includes the latest Evanston Public Library branch.

With this $1 million grant, more than 400 access points to gigabit Internet service will be established in Evanston and Northwestern, according to a governor’s office press release.

Quinn confessed at Friday’s press conference that if someone asked him about a year ago to describe a “gigabit community,” he wouldn’t quite know what he was talking about.

“But it really is ultra high-speed Internet — 100 times faster than what we’re used to today,” he said.

More than 160 technology start-ups call Evanston home, Wynne said. City business leaders and University President Morton Schapiro called the grant, and the speedy Internet infrastructure it will fund, necessities to keep entrepreneurs in Evanston.

If innovators stayed in the city instead of heading to innovation hotbeds such as the Silicon Valley and Boston’s Route 128, Schapiro said everyone would prosper.

“Do we want them going to Silicon Valley?” Quinn said of the NU students behind him. “That’s a fine place to visit, but we want them to stay right here in Evanston, in Illinois to create apps that will help make life better in the 21st century.”

The city and the University submitted a $2.5 million joint proposal to the governor’s gigabit challenge last year.

The proposal’s preliminary budget provided for cabling or data jacks through four parts of the city’s “innovation corridor”: Northwestern, the Chicago Main area, the downtown Technology Innovation Center and the Evanston-NU Research Park.

More than $300,000 was budgeted to outfit the Technological Institute with high-speed data jacks, according to the grant proposal.

For Eric Harper, co-founder of coLab Evanston, a company that provides shared office space, high-bandwidth internet is a top concern for young companies, technology-oriented or not. In the city-NU proposal, coLab was one of several listed organizations that would benefit from gigabit Internet.

“This is really helping us to resolve our critical business needs and offer the next generation of connectivity throughout the Evanston technology corridor,” Harper said at the press conference.

The city’s million-dollar grant comes as developer John O’Donnell and city officials work to revitalize the Chicago Main area into a destination for innovation.

Citing the proximity to CTA and Metra trains, as well as Loyola and NU, O’Donnell called the Chicago Main area a prime location to provide 30,000 square feet of office space.

Evanston City Council members are also considering the establishment of a tax-incremental financing district to support further economic development in the area.

On what Wynne called “a great day” for entrepreneurs, small business, the University and the city, at least one person today underscored the importance of addressing the needs of the entire community with this grant.

Bruce Montgomery, president of Montgomery & Co., referenced the late Rev. Hycel B. Taylor of the Second Baptist Church in Evanston in addressing community at the end of the press conference.

“When we think about these projects, we cannot leave out community,” Montgomery said. “Community needs to be a part of connectivity, needs to be part of broadband, needs to be part of the world.”