Plasma Center To Replace Walker Restaurant

October 16, 2008
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The former Cracker Barrel restaurant at the back edge of the Green Ridge development in Walker is slated to be replaced by BioLife Plasma Services during the first half of 2009.

BioLife Plasma Services is a unit of Baxter International, a publicly traded company with $11.3 billion in sales and headquarters in Deerfield, Ill. The company intends to build its third Grand Rapids area BioLife location by razing the vacant restaurant on three acres at 540 Center Drive NW and constructing a 15,000-square-foot building, Walker Planning Director Frank Wash said.

The firm plans to have 60 plasma donation stations and 50 to 60 staff members, Wash said. Walker has requested landscaping and signage upgrades, he added.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive re-do of the entire Cracker Barrel site,” Wash said. “It’s been vacant for a couple years now.”

BioLife Plasma Services is part of Baxter’s bioscience division, which manufactures recombinant and plasma-based proteins for the treatment of hemophilia, immune deficiency, biosurgery and vaccines. The division had sales of $46.5 million, as reported in the company’s annual report for 2007.

BioLife has about 70 plasma collection centers in 26 states, according to its Web site. It uses plasma to make GammaGuard, which is used to treat primary immunodeficiency. Unlike blood donations, people may donate plasma up to twice a week, said Jason Chronowski, Biolife’s regional marketing representative for the Grand Rapids area. Unlike blood donors, plasma donors are paid. Donors must be between 18 and 62 years old.

“They are reimbursed for their time and commitment to the program. Currently in our Grand Rapids centers, it’s around $60 a week, or up to $240 a month,” Chronowski said.

BioLife already has locations in Kentwood and Walker, as well as in the college towns of Mt. Pleasant and Marquette, said Cristin Frei, operations project manager.

“We go through extensive market research on general areas we are looking at to determine the right location,” Frei said. “We have two locations in Grand Rapids, and based on the success of those facilities, we looked at market demographics and met with a real estate company.”

The centers generally operate between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays, with fewer hours on Saturdays, Frei said. She said each facility handles between 1,500 and 2,300 donations per week.

Frei said the new building is part of an overall expansion underway for BioLife.

Paul Boffeli, vice president of construction manager Build to Suit Inc. of Bettendorf, Iowa, said the exterior would be a combination of brick and metal composite panel.

He said he expects his company to hire a local general contractor for the job, which then would handle local subcontractors.

Build to Suit has been working with Don DeGroot of Grand Rapids’ Exxel Engineering. CQX

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