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Sunday, 05 July 2015 22:00

$30 Million: MSU begins capital campaign for new Grand Rapids Research Center

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MSU President Lou Anna Simon MSU President Lou Anna Simon COURTESY PHOTO

GRAND RAPIDS — Michigan State University will seek to raise about $30 million to help pay for the $88.1 million biomedical research center that will add to the growing research cluster in Grand Rapids.

The university has been quietly laying the groundwork for a capital campaign on behalf of the Grand Rapids Research Center that will anchor what will become the Grand Rapids Innovation Park at the northeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Michigan Street in the city’s downtown.

MSU will conduct the campaign similarly to how it raised $50 million years ago for the Secchia Center that opened in 2010 to house the university’s College of Human Medicine after its relocation to Grand Rapids. Raising funds for that $90 million facility involved connecting with “a mix of people who have deep roots in Grand Rapids and saw that having that building there would make a huge difference in their community,” MSU President Lou Anna Simon told MiBiz.

“The same will be true for this building,” said Simon, who describes the research center as “our project” that builds on the collaborations MSU has developed in Grand Rapids.

The capital campaign plans to solicit financial support from research partners that become involved in the center, plus individual, corporate and foundation donations, Simon said.

The $30 million capital campaign is part of a financing package for the Grand Rapids Research Center that also uses university funds and debt, plus another $10 million targeted from what Simon calls “economic development sources” such as state grants and the sale of land around the research center for private development.

“There is a strong economic development case for this, particularly if you think about the innovation part around it,” she said, calling the Innovation Park alone “another catalyst and hub for the future yet to be imagined.”

MSU is now is in the early phase of the capital campaign for the Grand Rapids Research Center and is “in conversations with people,” said Vice President for University Advancement Robert Groves.

A key selling point to prospective donors is the economic benefit of the Grand Rapids Research Center, which is targeted to begin operations in late 2017 and would directly employ 195 people by 2029, plus support another 214 jobs indirectly, according to an economic development analysis by Anderson Economic Group. The East Lansing-based firm pegs the annual economic impact from the Grand Rapids Research Center at $28 million.

The center and surrounding Grand Rapids Innovation Park would also become a gateway for the city’s Medical Mile corridor, which includes education, health care and research. It could also spur new development in the surrounding neighborhood, particularly up North Monroe Avenue.

Groves believes those benefits will resonate with prospective contributors.

“I think the value proposition is there,” he said. “People want to invest in their community and do things that will generate a return.”

MSU will reach out to alumni “all over the world” to support the capital campaign, although Groves expects much of the backing to come from West Michigan.

“We don’t expect it all to be done by the people in Grand Rapids, but on the other hand, the benefits of this project rebound to the people of Grand Rapids,” he said.

The campaign for the research center is part of a much broader seven-year effort by MSU to raise $1.5 billion by 2018. The broader capital campaign has so far netted about $935 million, much of which is already committed to specific projects such as a new $60 million graduate pavilion for MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business, Groves said.

MSU raises about $200 million annually and brought in $238 million in 2014, he said.

Research teams at the new center in Grand Rapids will focus on Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, pediatric neurology, autism, inflammation, transplantation, cancer, genetics, women’s health and reproductive medicine.

The Grand Rapids Research Center and surrounding Innovation Park will not only add to the research cluster in Grand Rapids but also elevate the appeal of Grand Rapids as a destination for research talent, said Marsha Rappley, the departing dean of MSU’s College of Human Medicine.

Rappley, who has served as the medical school’s dean since 2006, credits MSU’s growing presence in Grand Rapids to the research partnerships it has forged locally.

“We had this vision and all together we made this happen,” she said. “There is just no way for this ball to stop. This is gaining momentum. It has a momentum that’s beyond me. It has a momentum that’s beyond any of our institutions. We’ve always talked about what we could do together being so much greater than what we do as individual institutions.”

Rappley leaves MSU Aug. 14 to join Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., where she will also run its health system. MSU has already begun a nationwide search for a successor.

Simon believes that the clinical, education and research partnerships the medical school has in Grand Rapids — most notably with Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and Grand Valley State University — add to the position’s appeal.

“As far as what we’re going to sell to a candidate, it’s really very, very powerful,” Simon said in an interview following a recent ceremonial groundbreaking for the Grand Rapids Research Center.

“In the search process, you build on the success of people. You build on the fact that the community is coming together for this vision, so it’s not something that you’re walking into having to resell,” she said. “That’s going to be very attractive to folks.”

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