MSU officials approve $85.1M research facility


The research building is anticipated to occupy roughly half of the 4.3-acre site downtown. Courtesy MSU College of Human Medicine

Michigan State University officials announced the approval of a biomedical research facility to be built in Grand Rapids with an overall budget of $88.1 million.

During an MSU board of trustees meeting Feb. 6, the board authorized the expansion of research capabilities in Grand Rapids by constructing an approximately $85.1 million biomedical research facility at 155 Michigan St. NW upon the demolition of the former Grand Rapids Press Building.

The Grand Rapids-Real Estate and Research Facility Development project includes the previously approved $3 million demolition of the existing building on the corner of Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street, and the construction of an approximately 160,000-square-foot, multi-story research building.

Marsha Rappley, dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said it is exciting to be able to move forward with the project and that the opportunity is creating a lot of anticipation.

“It is a wonderful site, partly because of the historic value and all of the good work that went into the Grand Rapids Press over the decades,” said Rappley. “Now through Michigan State, we have an opportunity to use this site to put up a building devoted to the health not only of our community, but also to really take it out through the world.”

The architect and engineer of the building is SmithGroupJJR, which is headquartered in Detroit. The construction is being handled through a joint partnership of Clark Construction Co., of Lansing, and Grand Rapids firm Rockford Construction.

The highly specialized research facility is being built to accommodate 36 principal investigators.

“A principal investigator is a lead person; there may be one or two lead people on each project and then they have a team of people working with them that create a laboratory,” said Rappley.

“It will start out with the capacity to house 36 of those, and we already have about 24 teams of investigators who will move into the building when it is completed and opened.”

The demolition of the former Grand Rapids Press building is anticipated to begin next month; the Grand Rapids Biomedical Research Center is planned to open late 2017, according to a press release.

Financing for the demolition will be primarily funded through the university’s general fund and tax-exempt financing with debt repayment, while the construction of the facility will be based on a traditional, university-financed model.

Although MSU issued a request for proposals to three public-private partnership firms in June 2014, it ultimately decided the assessment of the public-private partnership proposals did not yield a compelling, value-added benefit.

The research building is anticipated to occupy roughly half of the 4.3-acre land site in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, granting MSU the opportunity to pursue private-public investor discussions and partnerships regarding additional projects around the facility.

Although specific projects are yet to be determined, Rappley said they could be outside of research and could be public and not necessarily part of the university.

The MSU College of Human Medicine is housed in the $90 million privately funded Secchia Center, also located on the Medical Mile on Michigan Street. It was constructed specifically for medical education and not designed for research laboratory space. The added research capacity of the new research center will allow the college to “advance its trajectory of NIH-funded research growth,” according to the press release.

MSU College of Human Medicine has partnered with Van Andel Institute and Grand Valley State University to lease laboratory space to support National Institutes of Health-funded researchers; however, the medical school uses all of the laboratory space available to MSU in Grand Rapids. Having the space to accommodate more research laboratories is a wonderful opportunity for synergy and freedom to exchange what is learned between physician and scientist, according to Rappley.

“We, for example, recruited a scientist who works hand-in-hand with one of the physicians at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and his laboratory will be in this new building in very close proximity to the children’s hospital,” said Rappley. “They will be working together in the laboratory and the clinic to get the very best treatment for children with a particular kind of cancer that they study.”

During the next two years, the medical school will continue to recruit additional principal investigators for the new biomedical research center.

Rappley said support for the MSU medical school from the Grand Rapids community, businesses and area health systems has been enormous.

“It is just phenomenal we could be at this point after only eight years,” said Rappley. “We are very proud of that. Even more so we are proud of the work we are doing. We hope the people of Grand Rapids share in that pride because it could not have happened without all of that support.”

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