GRAND RAPIDS — Ferris State University today will announce long-term plans to expand its downtown Grand Rapids presence to include a full three blocks of Division Avenue.
The new Kendall College/FSU-Grand Rapids Master Plan details plans for the annexation of the current Grand Rapids Art Museum location at 155 N. Division Ave. in June 2006, along with an expanded presence and eventual purchase of the Commerce Building at 5 Lyon St.
The GRAM is moving to a new location adjacent to Rosa Parks Circle in 2006. The former post office and courthouse known as the Federal Building will be conveyed to the school at no cost, provided the college maintains the appearance of the exterior façade.
Kendall College began leasing the top two floors of the Commerce Building this past fall from owner Rockford Construction for student housing. The agreement allows the college to lease additional floors as its needs extend past its current 48-bed commitment.
“What we will have is three contiguous blocks in downtown Grand Rapids,” said FSU President David Eisler. “When you think of the potential of Kendall, the art museum and the Commerce Building, we are going to be able to define ourselves as an urban campus.”
Since the merger of FSU and Kendall College of Art and Design in 1996, the physical identity of FSU-GR has been splintered by a two-block gap between Kendall and the university’s primary downtown location in Grand Rapids Community College’s Applied Technology Center.
When the possibility of acquiring the GRAM building emerged, Eisler led a team of FSU officials on a tour of other emerging urban campuses in the nation to help determine how to immediately approach the school’s Grand Rapids development.
Ken Neumann of Southfield-based Neumann, Smith and Associates was contracted to study the area and write a master plan that fit the school’s objectives. He was the master planner of the Big Rapids campus as well.
“We wanted to put together a campus in a way that everybody in Grand Rapids has an understanding so that if they were asked where Ferris State University in Grand Rapids is, they could point right there,” Neumann said. “This will have image-ability; it will look and feel like a campus with all the components, classrooms, offices, libraries and signage and open space.”
Unlike the expansion efforts of neighboring institutions, Kendall/FSU plans to solidify its commitment to downtown Grand Rapids by forgoing new construction in favor of renovating existing buildings.
Although how exactly the GRAM building will be used by both schools is not yet certain, Kendall President Oliver Evans said that it will be first used for expansion needs of the sculpture and industrial design programs, as well as for studio space and to host community events and exhibitions. FSU hopes to expand some of its industrial programs into the space as well.
Before the transfer of the GRAM building, Kendall will first finish the sixth and final floor of its own facility. The school should be able to move into and make use of the first two floors of the GRAM shortly after the takeover in 2006. The upper levels, however, will require extensive renovations.
Eisler said that the needed renovations are expected to cost $6 million to $10 million. Fundraising efforts for the project will begin shortly.
Besides raising the necessary construction funds, the master plan presents one large unresolved problem: parking. Kendall currently has an enrollment of 920 while FSU-GR has 1,250 students, for a total of 2,170. Kendall’s growth is averaging 3 percent a year, while FSU-GR’s enrollment is increasing by 10 percent a year.
GRCC had helped shoulder some of the parking burden but was forced to remove a large number of spaces for its own students this past fall. The school did gain 75 DASH lot spaces, but remains in a parking deficit.
With plans calling for Kendall enrollment to increase by nearly 300 students in the next five years, there are as yet no plans to provide new parking for additional students.
“We have spent a fair amount of time working on that piece,” Eisler said. “It is something that is going to constrain us if we don’t solve that problem in the near future.”
According to Eisler, FSU will not be vacating the ATC any time soon. The school has a 26-year lease agreement with GRCC with an automatic renewal option.
The relationship with GRCC is one that Eisler intends to keep intact both physically and philosophically. The proximity has propelled Ferris to become GRCC’s second-favorite transfer destination, behind Grand Valley State University.