Print this page
Sunday, 05 July 2015 22:00

MSU project to serve as anchor for downtown GR’s north side

Written by 
Rate this item
(4 votes)
Michigan State University plans to build the $88.1 million Grand Rapids Research Center at the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue in the city’s downtown. Rockford Construction and Clark Construction created a joint venture to provide construction management services for the project. Michigan State University plans to build the $88.1 million Grand Rapids Research Center at the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue in the city’s downtown. Rockford Construction and Clark Construction created a joint venture to provide construction management services for the project. COURTESY RENDERING

GRAND RAPIDS — While Michigan State University’s future $88.1 million biomedical research facility is expected to have an impact on the region’s scientific research community, the project also demonstrates the strength of the real estate market in Grand Rapids.

That’s according to local development officials who plan to monitor what happens when MSU issues requests for proposals later this year to develop the remainder of the 4.1-acre site at the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue.

MSU’s 162,800-square-foot Grand Rapids Research Center and the adjacent Grand Rapids Innovation Park, which are expected to open in 2017, will only take up half the site, which formerly served as the headquarters of the Grand Rapids Press.

“We’ve purposefully sort of delayed the filling of that space to let all of our imaginations come together about what it’s going to be,” said MSU President Lou Anna Simon. “We have to think about this innovation park as another catalyst or hub for the future yet to be imagined.”

It remains unclear what specific uses may be a part of the ancillary development on the site where the university ceremonially broke ground in June.

MSU and the city have already announced plans to construct a 600-space vertical parking deck on the site. But whether the remaining space goes to institutional, residential or office users — or some combination thereof — sources affiliated with the development say there are significant opportunities for new projects on the Innovation Park itself, as well as in nearby areas.

“Those things need a little more definition yet, but we are excited to see it and we think there are really great opportunities alongside the research center and some very interested parties we have been talking to,” said Mike VanGessel, CEO of Grand Rapids-based Rockford Construction Co.

Rockford created a joint venture with Lansing-based Clark Construction Co. to provide construction management services for the project. VanGessel told MiBiz the joint venture makes sense because of Clark Construction’s experience building laboratory projects and Rockford’s history of working with the city of Grand Rapids.


Developers and city planners say the MSU project will serve as an anchor for increased development in Grand Rapids, particularly in the North Monroe Avenue corridor and in the city’s west side neighborhood located across the Grand River.

Developers such as Rockford and 616 Development LLC have ongoing mixed-use projects in the neighborhoods.

“It’s a really critical intersection — Michigan and Monroe — so having this as an anchor is a significant achievement, I think,” said Grand Rapids Planning Director Suzanne Schulz. “It’s really a gateway for those areas north, south, east and west.”

For example, VanGessel noted that the new research center will be a five-minute walk from his company’s mixed-use development on Bridge Street, a project anchored by a satellite location for New Holland Brewing Co.

An economic impact study from East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group LLC found that, aside from the obvious impact to the city’s life science and medical research capabilities, the MSU development has the potential to enhance the overall neighborhood around it.

The injection of an estimated 409 jobs with $28 million in annual payroll is a “terrific shot in the arm for Grand Rapids,” said Anderson Economic Group principal and CEO Patrick Anderson.

“The (research center) will increase the daytime population and pedestrian foot traffic at the site due to employees working at and visitors to the facility,” the report said. “The physical improvement of the site will also generate interest in the area and has spillover effects in attracting interest in nearby properties.”


The addition of another large institutional anchor development on the north end of downtown Grand Rapids also underscores the need for more transportation options, said Bill Kirk, the mobility manager at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI).

The new MSU project coupled with CWD Real Estate Investment’s ongoing renovation of the Rowe Hotel building — which is located across Monroe Avenue from the research center — makes for a powerful dynamic in the area, he said.

CWD plans to convert the long-vacant building into 77 market-rate apartments and offer space for ground-floor retail.

“Obviously, we are going to have a really strong corner there to be a gateway into Monroe North,” Kirk said.

With large institutional anchor developments such as Spectrum Health, Van Andel Institute and others on the downtown’s north end and attractions including Founders Brewing Co. and the Downtown Market to the south, the city must look to new ways of getting people around the area, Kirk said.

DGRI hopes to emphasize a “park once” mentality for those who drive into the downtown area, he said. The group’s goal is to provide enough options so that people have ways of getting around downtown and the nearby neighborhoods without having to move their cars multiple times during the day.

DGRI, which administers the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA), has a number of plans in various stages of progress to offer new ways to transport people around the core downtown area as well as the surrounding neighborhoods on the west side and along North Monroe Avenue. In the next month or so, the city’s Parking Services Department and DGRI plan to deploy approximately 10 Enterprise car share vehicles around the downtown area.

In the longer term, the group is exploring the possibility of rerouting the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) to be more of a “downtown circulator,” aimed at getting downtown workers and visitors to a variety of destinations around the central business district and nearby neighborhoods.

Kirk said the current DASH route is largely geared toward getting downtown workers to and from outlying surface parking lots, which would remain a priority under the new routes that are still being worked out.


Perhaps DGRI’s more ambitious plan is for a proposed a bike share program, similar to those found in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. DGRI aims to roll out the service in late 2016 or early 2017, Kirk said.

On the low end, the group would want to see 30 stations and about 300 bikes. Early cost projections for the program are in the range of $2 million to $5 million.

Each of these initiatives aims to offer a new method of transporting people, whether they’re downtown residents, visitors or commuters.

“As we look at transportation downtown, any form — be it single-occupancy vehicles, buses — we are really trying to focus on balanced investment,” Kirk said. “It provides more equity and mobility for people. If we invest in a balanced way, we don’t over-invest in roads or buses or a bike share. We’re just providing more options.”

MiBiz Senior Writer Mark Sanchez contributed to this report.

Read 6243 times Last modified on Tuesday, 21 July 2015 10:10