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Thursday, 21 June 2012 13:59

WMU East Campus private redevelopment hinges on state incentives

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WMU East Campus private redevelopment hinges on state incentives Courtesy photo
KALAMAZOO — If a redevelopment plan secures state incentive support, several of Western Michigan University's slowly decaying legacy buildings could be preserved for private commercial use.

Dallas, Texas-based KDC Real Estate Development & Investments proposes to convert the university's historic East Campus into a boutique hotel, commercial office space and housing development in a project estimated to cost between $50 million and $60 million.

Randy Doran, senior vice president at KDC, said the company filed paperwork with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to pursue various tax incentives to augment the cost of the project. He said he expects to see a response within the next 60 days.

"We're pursuing a number of incentives and tax credits to make the project work," he said.

Doran said the tax credits ensure the project remains economically viable. Without the credits, the developer would have to charge double for room and rental rates compared to similar local properties. Officials at Western say they just want to see the university's legacy buildings saved from being bulldozed.

Bob Miller, associate vice president for community outreach at WMU, said the university remains committed to finding a way to save the buildings, but had limited financial resources to do so.

"We have a number of priorities within programming and brick and mortar already. These buildings are no longer viable for student programming, and projects like the new Sangren Hall came first," he said. "The state wasn't going to give us money. After a donor feasibility study, there was just not enough philanthropic support."

A group of university officials convened to see if there was a way to engage the private sector to save the buildings, Miller said. If the group could find a developer with the right plan and get the buildings back on the tax rolls, the university planned to find a way to turn over ownership of the properties.

The university released an RFP in 2010 and received about 80 proposals. On Jan. 15, 2011, 15 different groups showed up to tour the facilities; five groups eventually submitted full proposals.

Miller said the university selected KDC because it put together the strongest development team that included more than 12 different companies, all of them Michigan-based.

"We want faculty, students and staff to be able to take advantage of these assets again," he said.

Pete Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management at WMU, said the four buildings — East Hall, North Hall, West Hall and the Speech and Hearing Center — all need serious work to restore them to their former glory.

"Many of internal systems are at the end of their life," he said. "This is a good opportunity to use a public-private partnership to get these legacy buildings back on the register."

KDC's Doran said plans thus far call for East Hall to be the site of the boutique hotel with the gymnasium converted into a health club and the atrium transformed into a conference center designed for small gatherings and weddings.

North Hall would be turned into residences that emphasize some of the building's traditional features like its arched windows and fireplaces.

West Hall would be turned into "moderately priced" apartment housing, with most residents expected to have some ties to the university.

A commercial office would take the place of the Speech and Hearing Center, preserving much of the building's interior. Preliminary plans also call for a 450-space parking structure to be built into the east side of Prospect Hill, with the top part becoming a landscaped feature that would be part of the hotel.

Miller said WMU is continuing to explore additional investors in the project.

The MEDC, as a matter of standard practice, would not comment on the state of the KDC application.

As previously report by MiBiz, East Hall and North Hall house WMU's archives, which contains admissions documents and serves as the state historical document repository for 22 counties in Southwest Michigan.

Moving the archives to a safer, more secure and accessible facility is a priority for the university. East Campus is prone to vandalism and has fluctuations in inside moisture levels, all of which pose threats to the documents.

In April 2011, the university proposed a new $10 million facility to house the archives on its Oakland Drive campus. However, the early fundraising campaign, which hoped to tap the business community, proved to be a tough sell.

Eventually the project found support in the way of two private gifts. In May of this year, the university announced the project would break ground later this summer.

The design, by SHW Group of Detroit, includes a three-story, high-bay storage area where up to 1.5 million volumes could be stored.


Read 1803 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 July 2012 22:48

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