MSU develops construction strategies for Grand Rapids research facility


Michigan State owns the former Grand Rapids Press building and its parking lots. Business Journal photo

Michigan State University is about to make major progress in developing the space it owns in Grand Rapids and the university’s research capabilities.

MSU’s Board of Trustees today approved a project called “Grand Rapids — Long Term Real Estate and Research Facilities,” according to a memo from Marsha Rappley, M.D., dean of MSU’s College of Human Medicine, that was obtained by the Business Journal.

“The planning will include evaluation of the land and development of strategies for construction of a research facility for Michigan State University, including parking and funding,” according to the memo. “This positions Michigan State for long-term, continued growth of our research portfolio, including collaborations with our partners, and strengthens Big Ten research in West Michigan.”

The memo went on to say that this is a first step in planning for the use of Michigan State University's real estate holdings in Grand Rapids, including property purchased by the university in January 2012, including the former Grand Rapids Press building and parking lots.

Updated 1:15 p.m., June 21

On Jan. 27, 2012, MSU paid $12 million for 7.85 acres of downtown Grand Rapids property, a move connected with the continued expansion of MSU’s College of Human Medicine. This purchase included the former Grand Rapids Press building, a 173,800-square-foot structure located at 155 Michigan St. NW, and its parking lot at 432 Monroe Ave. NW, as well parking lots at 533 Monroe, 544 Monroe, 601 Monroe and 601 Ionia Ave. NW. MSU was able to make the deal at $500,000 below the appraised value of the property, according to MSU’s communications department.

In addition, Rappley said 15 principal investigators will occupy all of MSU’s available laboratory space in the Van Andel Institute by September, marking the next phase for MSU’s research arm in Grand Rapids. The move is a “win-win” for both MSU and Van Andel, she said.

Updated 4 p.m., June 21

Rappley said this move could have a major impact on Grand Rapids’ economic future.

“When we bring research labs into a community, they bring a considerable number of people who are well employed, creating jobs for others to help continue the research,” she said. “Those researchers, in turn, contribute to the vibrancy of the community and also recruit others as part of a thriving medical research community.”

MSU only received board authorization today, she said, meaning most of the planning process, particularly the timeline, costs, and renovation or rebuilding details, is still unknown. Rappley does expect the planning work to begin immediately, however. MSU’s Office of Planning and Budgets will probably be heading up the process, she said, adding that it’s possible an outside firm might be consulted.

She has a high degree of confidence MSU’s goals to enhance the locations will be met.

“All this doesn’t mean there’s going to be a groundbreaking soon, but it does mean the university supports the planning process,” Rappley said. “We’ve been thinking about the need for additional research space for a long time. It was more of a concept than reality until the Grand Rapids Press property became available.”

Rappley speculated that the expansions would focus on research surrounding the areas of pediatrics, orthopedics, pre-vascular, cancer and metabolic diseases research.

Some of this new work would take place at MSU’s space in the Van Andel Institute, she said, where well-funded groups of scientists are currently researching neurosciences, skin cancer and women’s health.

“We expect that we’ll always have some of our MSU scientists leasing from Van Andel because we see the work as so complementary and collaborative,” she said.

In regard to the former Grand Rapids Press building, Rappley said the planning team would likely assess whether it would be more cost effective to renovate the space or tear it down and rebuild. Historical considerations would be taken into account, she said.

“We’re very grateful for the support that we’ve had since the beginning of our expansion,” she said. “We’re really proud to have brought internationally acclaimed investigators with high peer review into the community. They love it here, and the research is exploding.”

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