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This U of I donation is the largest-ever from a board trustee

Crain's Chicago Business

Thursday, February 13, 2020  |  Editorial  |  Editorial Board

University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Don Edwards has given $10 million to help fund the school's new research center in Chicago and its network of university outposts across the state.

 

In the largest donation to the University of Illinois ever by a board trustee, private-equity businessman Don Edwards and his wife Anne donated $10 million to support the university's creation of a research center in Chicago and to its related network across the state.

 

Edwards, who was re-elected as chairman of the University's board of trustees last month, announced the donation at a press conference today with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, at which Pritzker said the state would move ahead with $500 million in funding for Discovery Partners Institute center to be built in Chicago's South Loop and for the network of public universities across the state that will be connected to it.

 

Specifically, half of the $10 million gift will support DPI and the Illinois Innovation Network while another $3 million will fund UIUC Gies College of Business faculty working at DPI and $2 million will fund a DPI-Gies technology and innovation fund, the University of Illinois System said in a statement.

 

At the event, Edwards, 53, said he had long believed that the state needed a stronger technology center and gave Pritzker credit for helping make it happen. Edwards also echoed Lightfoot's remarks that the new center will be a way to keep "our best young talent here in Illinois" at a time when many graduates are leaving the state for opportunities elsewhere.

 

Edwards, a Democrat, was appointed to the U of I board of trustees by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, who announced the DPI project two years ago.

 

Pritzker said previously that he'd release the $500 million in state funding when the system, which includes the state universities at Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago, had raised matching private funds. The donation from Edwards is part of $230 million that has been raised, the governor said in a statement. Pritzker said at the press conference that another $270 million in private commitments is on the way.

Edwards, who is CEO and founder of Chicago-based private equity firm Flexpoint Ford, let it be known today that he's still in fundraising mode. "To all my colleagues in the business community in Chicago, I'm coming after you," he said at the press conference. He attended the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and both he and his wife are graduates of Gies.

 

Edwards said he's putting his money where his mouth is. "I'm trying to catalyze the business, technology and alumni communities to get involved. It's important to show that I, as board chair, believe in the project."

 

In her separate release, Lightfoot said that the state is providing $235 million for construction of the 500,000-square-foot research and development campus at the parcel of land known as the 78. It will be part of a $7 billion mixed-use project over 62 acres along the South Branch of the Chicago River that is being developed by Related Midwest.

 

The center and its network, including spokes to 15 state universities statewide, are expected to create 48,000 "new-economy" jobs over the next ten years and to have an economic impact of $19 billion over that period, according to the governor's statement.