Michigan State University plans to demolish the former Grand Rapids Press headquarters to build its biomedical research center, a move the city’s planning director said will represent “a whole new era for downtown.”
MSU purchased the property, 155 Michigan St. NW, in 2012 to expand its research initiative in West Michigan after opening the university’s medical school facility, the Secchia Center, located just up the hill, two years prior.
Dick Temple, architect and project manager for MSU’s College of Human Medicine, said officials are planning for a 145,000-square-foot building that will be five or six stories tall. He said the Grand Rapids Research Center’s design will reflect a gateway to both the Medical Mile and the North Monroe neighborhood.
“We will work with the city to make sure it fits the fabric. It’s a pretty significant site,” Temple said.
City Planning Director Suzanne Schulz said MSU has been partnering with the city and conducted analyses to determine whether it would be feasible to renovate the former Press building.
“We did several studies over several years and it’s neither financially or functionally a viable way to create a world-class research center,” Temple said.
MSU officials plan to compare proposals for both a traditional university-financed model and a developer-financed model for the upcoming research center. The first step of their evaluation began Friday, April 4, with the issuance of request for qualifications for developers interested in a public-private partnership.
All plans are subject to approval by the MSU Board of Trustees.
The community has driven the push to consider a developer-financed model, Temple said. He declined to comment on which firms expressed interest.
Temple said planners have looked to public-private partnerships throughout the nation and recently visited projects in Seattle. They’re looking for development firms to be “wildly creative.”
The university later this summer will issue a request for proposal for contractors interested in the university-financed model and will compare the two models side-by-side.
“Our goal would be to have a decision made by December of this year,” Temple said.
The facility is projected to open in late 2017. Representatives declined to comment on a timeline for demolition of the former Press building and construction of the new center.
The 173,840-square-foot former Press headquarters opened in 1966 amid urban renewal construction on the north side of downtown throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Schulz said the building does have redeeming qualities – such as high ceilings and few beams – but it isn’t pedestrian friendly.
MSU’s development will be vital for the site that’s considered the “gateway corner” to the North Monroe business district and current redevelopment projects, Schulz said.
“I put this site akin to what the (Van Andel) Arena or the B.O.B was for people going south of Fulton. This site is really the key for getting people to go across Michigan and go north,” she said. “It really is a crossroads in many ways.”
The research facility will arrive at an exciting time, Schulz said, noting the planned Embassy Suites at 720 Monroe Ave. NW and plans to develop lofts and retail space in the former Sackner Products factory at 820 Monroe Ave. NW.
The location is not without its design challenges, Schulz said. The Michigan Street post office attracts heavy truck traffic on the west of the site, and the I-196 ramp lies to the east. Developers will also have to balance the dichotomy between a secure research complex and a space that also feels welcoming and open to the public, she said.
MSU’s purchase of the former Press building for $12 million included five parking lots.
The expansion drew 15 principal investigators and their teams, who are currently working out of space leased from the Van Andel Institute and Grand Valley State University. The college plans to recruit another six to nine additional scientists over the next three years.
“We expect that the building will be roughly two-thirds full when we move in, but that still gives us enough space to grow into,” said Jeffrey Dwyer, College of Human Medicine senior associate dean for research and community engagement. “The facility provides us with the opportunity to continue to grow and continue to plan to bring more outstanding scientists to the region.”