GRAND RAPIDS — The new Grand Rapids Research Center opens this week, anchoring the western end of the city’s Medical Mile cluster of education, health care and research institutions and elevating Michigan State University’s role in biomedicine.
The $88.1 million facility initially will house 18 research teams that will relocate from the nearby Van Andel Research Institute. The 162,800-square-foot center has a capacity to grow to 44 research teams and will eventually employ more than 260 researchers and about 140 support staff within three years, said Norman Beauchamp, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine.
Beauchamp believes the Grand Rapids Research Center will become a magnet for attracting academic and research talent to the city and enable the College of Human Medicine to become one of the top medical schools in the country.
“It’s a huge moment for us,” Beauchamp told MiBiz. “Your leading medical schools in the country have a very strong research component, if you look at any of the top 20 or top 10. This really elevates us to stand side by side with those educational institutions.”
MSU began construction on the Grand Rapids Research Center more than two years ago at the 4.1-acre site at the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue, which formerly housed the headquarters for the Grand Rapids Press.
A 2015 analysis by the Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing estimated the Grand Rapids Research Center will generate an annual direct economic impact of $28 million from the wages paid to staff.
Kara Wood, economic development director for the City of Grand Rapids, expects that economic benefit to grow well beyond the salaries of highly-educated researchers and support staffers who will dine, shop and live in the area. The Grand Rapids Research Center can spur additional development around the neighborhood, particularly up the North Monroe Avenue corridor that’s already attracting new investments, including a new hotel and mixed-use projects.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity for the community with huge economic returns for years to come,” Wood said. “There are a lot of developable sites in that North Monroe area and it could be the catalyst for what’s to come for that area.”
To pay for the research center, MSU planned to raise $40 million in a capital campaign. The university to date has raised about $27 million for the project.
MSU has several large requests out to prospective benefactors, and Beauchamp remains hopeful it will raise the remainder by year’s end from donors who want to support biomedical research conducted by the university.
“I’m feeling pretty confident we’ll get it,” said Beauchamp, who joined the MSU College of Human Medicine a year ago as its dean. “It’s a really wonderful opportunity and it’s going to have a major impact and it’s going to touch on diseases. I’m hopeful we can close the rest of the gap with people understanding the types of work that we’re doing.
“My goal and my hope is that by the end of December, we will have completed our outreach and we will have inspired some of the people in the community who haven’t had a chance to participate that this is a wonderful way to make a difference.”
A St. Johns, Mich. native who earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from MSU, Beauchamp came to Grand Rapids from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he served as chairman of the Department of Radiology.
Beauchamp would have liked the capital campaign to have been closer to completion to coincide with the center’s opening. His transition to dean “may have slowed us down a bit” in the fundraising, he said.
Researchers at the Grand Rapids Research Center will focus on neurosciences, cancer, and women’s and children’s health.
The Grand Rapids Research Center should help MSU recruit academics and scientists to the College of Human Medicine, Beauchamp said. The facility also should help the city attract medical residents and medical students “all because they’ll see the uniqueness of our ability now to improve health and train them to be leaders in doing so,” he added.
“We can recruit from any place in the country without difficulty,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp cites as an example the recent recruitment of Drs. David and Marcia Morgan from the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The new downtown research center made a difference in their recruitment in “that we could show them the type of facility in which they would be working,” Beauchamp said.