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MSU issues RFQ for developer-financed research center

April 4, 2014
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MSU approves research plan
Michigan State owns the former Grand Rapids Press building and its parking lots. Business Journal photo

A research center project in downtown Grand Rapids is entering its first phase after Michigan State University issued a request for qualifications from developers interested in a public-private partnership with the school.

MSU officials said today that the university is pursuing the option of a developer-financed model in addition to the traditional university-financed model for a new biomedical research facility on the site of the former Grand Rapids Press building in downtown Grand Rapids. The university issued a request for qualifications for developers interested in a partnership with the MSU project as the first step of the process.

The project of constructing the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center was announced in September 2013 after the purchase of property in Grand Rapids. The new facility is expected to be roughly 145,000 square feet and be operational by late 2017. Currently, the university’s design teams are working on detailed specifications, refined cost estimates, and determining financing and delivery models, according to a statement from MSU.

Ken Horvath, chief of staff and vice president for auxiliary enterprises at MSU, said the university was highly encouraged by members of the Grand Rapids community to pursue a developer-financed model. The public-private partnership allows the university to seek out highly qualified developers with financial capabilities and expertise needed to design and construct a research laboratory.

With a traditional university-financed model, Michigan State is responsible for the design and development of the land, while a developer-financed model shares the risks and rewards with a developer, according to Horvath.

Dr. Jeffrey Dwyer, associate dean for research and community engagement, said throughout the planning process, attention has been paid to make sure the schematics and designs will accommodate researchers’ needs.

“I think that one of the important aspects of building a building like this is that we need the expertise of lots of different people, and we are fortunate, in the early phases, to have those people available to work with us to design the building,” said Dwyer. “Attention needs to be paid to everything from pressures in the building in terms of how air flows … what are the electrical and mechanical and plumbing needs that are required to accommodate the research that we want to do.”

According to Dwyer, the building will provide space for 36 principal investigators and their teams, and at the time of the projected move-in, the research team will fill roughly two-thirds of the building.

“Biomedical research and life sciences research is growing substantially in this region, and many of our close partners are growing their research as well. So I think what is not just interesting about this — but what is really important about this — is certainly this addresses a need we have at Michigan State University,” said Dwyer. “But the fact of the matter is the region needs more of this kind of space in general, because this is becoming a place that many different institutions are successfully recruiting people to who are doing exciting and important work.”

With all laboratory space used to capacity at the university’s College of Human Medicine Secchia Center, designed for academics and opened in 2010, the university announced the need to build a new biomedical research facility to support the growth of MSU and research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“There will be significant opportunities for medical students, for undergraduate students, for Ph.D. students,” said Dwyer. “We have an MD/Ph.D. program, so it will be an opportunity for some of those people as well.”

MSU said that as of January the medical school had recruited 15 principal investigators and their respective teams to the area, and the school anticipates searching for an additional six to nine investigators over the next three years. The current investigators are using spaced leased in the Van Andel Institute to conduct their research in areas such as women’s health research focused on cancer and reproduction, and neurosciences.

MSU will be issuing requests for proposals later this summer for contractors interested in partnering with the university in a traditional delivery method. At this point, it is an open process in which the university is looking at all potential developers. The staggered requests will enable Michigan State to compare the two types of financed models and formulate a recommendation to the board of trustees. Depending on approvals, the new biomedical research center is expected to be completed in late 2017.

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