VAI addition opens for scientific research

December 7, 2009
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The Van Andel Institute is celebrating the opening of its $178 million, 240,000-square-foot research addition with a private ribbon-cutting tomorrow and other festivities, including public tours.

“It’s important that people have pride in this institution as an important institution within their community,” said Steven Heacock, chief administrative officer of the nonprofit medical research institute in Grand Rapids.

The new space will include a Parkinson’s disease research laboratory named for the late Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel, who established the institute in the late 1990s. About a dozen researchers are in the process of moving from the University of Cincinnati, bringing a $6.2 million National Institutes of Health grant for a Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research. Under the auspices of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, the program is one of 14 funded by NIH.

The institute is divided into the Van Andel Research Institute and the Van Andel Education Institute. It was founded in 1996 and opened the doors to its research building in 2000.

In the tax year 2007, the latest information available, the VAI reported to the IRS that it spent $28 million, but had net revenue of $297 million and net assets of $933 million. The endowment was funded by Van Andel, and the VAI also does fundraising.

The addition is expected to eventually move VAI employment from the current 250 to as many as 550, and most of the new positions will be scientific, Heacock said.

“It is built for the future,” said Heacock, noting that the entire building now encompasses 400,000 square feet. “It could be 10 or 15 years before it’s filled.”

Designed by architect Rafael Vinoly, who recently visited Grand Rapids as the first event on the grand opening schedule, the addition was built by Hunt Construction Group and Owen-Ames-Kimball. Heacock said a total of 1,800 construction workers found jobs at the site, 333 Bostwick Ave. NE.

“Because we made it an emphasis and worked hard at it, we had a substantial portion of minority-owned businesses,” he said. “The economic impact in creating the building was substantial.”

The Michigan Strategic Fund issued $220 million in bonds for the VAI last year. Heacock said that included some refinancing of bonds from construction of the original building as well as money for extra projects, such as the refurbishing of Crescent Park.

“The endowment is substantial, but we need to leverage that,” Heacock said. “We need other dollars, as well.”

He said the institute may consider commissioning an economic impact study within the next year or two.

Public tours are available on a variety of December dates by registration only. Visit www.vai.org to sign up.

Heacock said the addition was built for Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design standards, although the original was not.

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