Rauner terminates grant to bring Evanston high-speed Internet

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Gov. Bruce Rauner revoked a $1 million state grant to provide Evanston with ultra high-speed Internet, canceling a project that would have established an “innovation corridor” in the area of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city received notice within the last two months that the state canceled the grant that would have helped fund the project, which was meant to attract entrepreneurs to the area.

The grant was withdrawn earlier this year amidst attempts to cut the state budget. The city will have to return the money it received from the state, Bobkiewicz said.

“We were all a little saddened by it, but I think, quite honestly, we know what the state is going through,” Bobkiewicz said. “I can’t say that we were actually surprised.”

Former Gov. Pat Quinn announced in January 2013 that the city would receive the grant in a speech at Evanston Public Library’s Chicago Avenue/Main Street branch, 900 Chicago Ave. The grant was part of the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge, which is meant to enhance communities’ broadband networks to boost their economies. The city and Northwestern submitted a $2.5 million joint proposal to the state in 2012.

About two years into the project, the design for the gigabit-speed Internet link was set and the city was preparing to find a contractor to begin laying the fiber, Bobkiewicz told The Daily.

The city and NU intended to execute the project by July 2015. Access to the the high speed Internet — which would increase Internet speed hundredfold —  would have also been available throughout the NU campus.

A development at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Main Street, 835 Chicago Ave., will no longer come equipped with the high speed Internet service that developers would have advertised to renters. The nine-story development — including retail, office and residential space — is set to open in fall 2016.

The city will seek other ways to bring Evanston high-speed Internet access, Bobkiewicz said.

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