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Sunday, 08 November 2015 21:00

Health science programs help spur development in West Michigan downtowns

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Michigan State University’s $88 million Grand Rapids Research Center is expected to serve as a catalyst for nearby development in downtown Grand Rapids by increasing foot traffic and the daytime population in the area. Michigan State University’s $88 million Grand Rapids Research Center is expected to serve as a catalyst for nearby development in downtown Grand Rapids by increasing foot traffic and the daytime population in the area. COURTESY PHOTO

Downtowns across West Michigan have transformed into destinations for some of the area’s leading life sciences and biomedical research institutions.

For proof, one needn’t look beyond Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo where Michigan State University and Western Michigan University, respectively, have each made significant investments in medical learning and research facilities. Beyond the walls of the buildings, however, the projects have the potential to leverage both direct and indirect follow-on investment, according to development sources.

While both facilities play into a need for increased life sciences infrastructure and the high-wage jobs that often come with that sector, the areas around those sites often become magnets for increased residential, retail and cultural services, developers told MiBiz.

That’s the case with The Rowe, a long-vacant former hotel across the street from MSU’s Grand Rapids Research Center being built at the former site of the Grand Rapids Press headquarters. Grand Rapids-based CWD Real Estate Investment is in the process of converting The Rowe into a mixed-use residential and commercial building.

While CWD would have gone ahead with the renovation of the Rowe building with or without the adjacent MSU project, the university’s plans — and the 180 new jobs it projects for the site — did influence the developer to tailor some of the site’s commercial space to professionals and students at the research facility, said Managing Partner Sam Cummings.

“We’ve been pretty vocal that we’d like to see a coffee shop,” Cummings said of one possible use of ground-floor space, adding that it’s important to ensure that people in the vicinity have a variety of retail and dining options.

“We don’t want a casino mentality,” he added. “We want people moving between buildings.”

CWD remains in talks with a variety of users, including a local coffee shop, about taking ground-floor space in The Rowe, but Cummings declined at this point to name potential tenants beyond Atwater Brewing Co. As MiBiz first reported in September, the Detroit-based craft brewery will occupy 6,000 square feet of ground-floor space for a taproom and production facility in the building.

Thinking creatively

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

The estimated economic impact of $28 million is a “terrific shot in the arm for Grand Rapids,” Anderson Economic Group Principal and CEO Patrick Anderson said at the time.

“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 $88 million biomedical research facility that’s expected to open in 2017 is also just one part of the development plans for the northeast corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue in Grand Rapids. The university expects to release a request for proposals either in the coming winter or spring for ancillary development on the other two parcels of land previously owned by the Grand Rapids Press.

By design, stakeholders are mum on what the private development aspect could entail at the sites. The reason: They want the private sector to show off its creative abilities, according to Vennie Gore, MSU’s vice president of auxiliary enterprises.

“For us, we don’t want to restrict the creativity of the private sector,” Gore said. “Ideally, (the ancillary development) would be what you would see in an innovation park. We’re being somewhat non-prescriptive because we want people to be creative and think about these things.”

The site will also contain a 600-space vertical parking deck.

Building connections

Similarly, WMU’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, which opened last summer, could serve as a shot in the arm for development in the south end of downtown Kalamazoo. The med school project has already started to link together with Bronson Healthcare’s campus and other near-downtown neighborhoods, according to Ron Kitchens, the president and CEO of Southwest Michigan First.

“Healthy neighborhoods are key to a healthy city,” Kitchens said in an email to MiBiz. “Not everyone wants to live in a loft-style apartment or condo, so stable neighborhoods with active commercial areas are important as well.”

While not necessarily a direct result of WMU’s medical school, the downtown Kalamazoo area and its near-neighborhoods are awash in new development projects. In particular, Kitchens pointed to the proposed redevelopment of the six-acre site known as Arcadia Commons West.

Last month, the Arcadia Commons West Task Force announced it had selected Georgia developer Rise Real Estate to build out the site. The developer plans to build 256 multifamily residential units, row houses, as well as commercial and retail space, according to public documents.

“Having a 24-hour downtown with a mix of residential product types and price points will help with student attraction and retention, not just for WMed, but also for Kalamazoo College, KVCC and Western Michigan University,” Kitchens said. “Similarly, it helps with talent attraction and retention for employers.”

One of Kitchens’ counterparts in the West Michigan economic development community also believes that university-based institutional investment leads to enhanced collaboration.

“The biggest thing they do is leverage other institutional users,” said Kara Wood, economic development director for the city of Grand Rapids. “These are the type of jobs that do drive life science research. We’ve seen partnerships at other spots and we hope for them (at the MSU site).”

Read 3549 times Last modified on Sunday, 22 November 2015 19:43

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