Expensive neighborhood destruction is not a good university foundation


Planning and property development in the city of Grand Rapids has for the past 30 years been raised to a level of partnership and inclusiveness that mirrors the city’s noted philanthropy on behalf of “the village.” It’s very much written into mission statements by those committed to a lifetime of contributing to the regional growth, and a well-known guideline among public institutions, as well.

The Grand Valley State University expansion plan announced Nov. 1 seems at odds with such well-established examples. One has to pause and ask whether those community ideals are shared by those proffering and profiting from this direction.

The GVSU board of trustees approved expansion of the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, a plan anticipated even at its groundbreaking and made more urgent by then-dwindling numbers of health education students and the long-term anticipated “tsunami” levels of increased need.

The Business Journal cites the expansion plan for its gutting of one of the city’s most precious, scenic neighborhoods — finally rebounding the last 10 years, replacing taxpaying property owners with tax-supported public institution buildings.

Further, the Business Journal suggests the university’s comparatively high per-square-foot acquisition price is far more expensive than necessary, especially given comparables in the second-phase development area of Michigan and Monroe, where vacant property and underused buildings beg investment.

The decision is disappointing, too, considering the university’s commitment to leadership in sustainability, environmental standards and livable communities.

GVSU’s insistence on expansion in this area also demonstrates a willingness to decimate the neighborhoods on its campus borders as its appetite for land grows more voracious. The ripple effect of such expansion immediately affects city neighborhoods to the east and adversely impacts city infrastructure and “grid” development.

The Business Journal acknowledges GVSU was among the first anchors along the Michigan Street medical corridor. The education component of health care became part of the attraction for other educational institutions, most notably Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine/Secchia Center and Ferris State University’s College of Pharmacy.

The continued build-out of an important component in the medical science complex eventually squeezed new development into other areas, to wit: MSU’s purchase of a former newspaper building at the corner of Michigan and Monroe, and Spectrum Health’s lease of office space in Bridgewater Place.

The Business Journal encourages GVSU to consider the destructive elements of its plan and use its estimated five-year “visioning” time frame for suitable options.

Under the current plan, the visibility GVSU enjoys from millions of highway drivers would become visible neighborhood destruction and collective remembrance in the village.

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