Aurora starts innovation district for tech businesses; outside firm may invest up to $300 million in city's "smart city" effort

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker praises Aurora's plan to create an innovation district focusing on technology, at an announcement ceremony Thursday.

      Gov. J.B. Pritzker praises Aurora's plan to create an innovation district focusing on technology, at an announcement ceremony Thursday. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

  • Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, greets Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a ceremony Thursday launching the 605 Innovation District.

      Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, left, greets Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a ceremony Thursday launching the 605 Innovation District. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

 
 

Aurora is going to become an innovation district, 605 Innovation, where it hopes business entrepreneurs will come to work, play and live.

And it is about to sign a nonbinding agreement with a private-equity firm, Smart City Capital, for that firm to invest up to $300 million in the effort to make Aurora a tech-savvy "smart city."

Mayor Richard Irvin announced the pending memorandum of understanding at a ceremony Thursday attended by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, at Bureau Gravity, a marketing, branding and communication firm at 56 S. LaSalle St. It also offers coworking spaces, and is identified as the new district's "business intelligence and media hub."

"It wasn't too long ago people doubted innovation could come out of the middle of the country," Pritzker told a crowd of several hundred people. Then he helped start the 1871 business incubator, accelerator and coworking center in Chicago. 1871 has resulted in the creation of about 11,000 jobs, he said.

"Illinois excels at the pillars of the innovation technology, and now Aurora will be among the very best (innovation districts)," he said.

"605" refers to the first three digits of the half-dozen ZIP codes in Aurora.

An innovation district is a tool cities nationwide have started using to encourage creativity and collaboration in business, especially among entrepreneurs, by having them live, work and play in the same area. Chicago, for example, created the Fulton Market Innovation District in 2014. The Illinois Medical District on Chicago's West Side has suggested a life-sciences innovation district.

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In Aurora's case, the district will be citywide, but the heart would be along the 0-100 block of South LaSalle, according to city officials. It could include housing, business and retail developments.

A key factor to the plan is Aurora's readiness to become a smart city. It already has installed 137 miles of fiber-optic cable, facilitating high-speed data transmission. Earlier this year, the city council adopted a Technology Strategic Plan, outlining dozens of initiatives that will help it become a regional technology hub.

Another factor, Pritzker said, is Aurora's proximity to a highly-educated workforce. He said Illinois ranks 4th in the nation in granting master's of business administration degrees.

"This city and our state have the creativity," Pritzker said.

Clayton Muhammad, the city's spokesman, said he expects the Smart City agreement to be signed Friday. The details, including the amount of the investment, were not announced during the ceremony.

The city is considering making in-kind contributions to the Smart City effort, such as letting it use vacant city-owned office space in the city's parking garage, according to Muhammad.

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