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WMU creating second business park
The 55-acre, $4.2M park will be sold in parcels for about $60K to $80K per acre.
Since 2000, 40 research and technology companies have filled up the 256-acre Western Michigan University Business Technology and Research Park, located on its Parkview Campus in Oshtemo Township.
Now, WMU is spending about $4.2 million to prepare another 55 acres of land across the street to become its second park, Business Technology and Research Park 2 (BTR 2).
As with the first park, WMU plans to sell individual parcels — probably seven to 10 at about $60,000 to $80,000 per acre — to private companies, according to Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach and the one in charge of the parks’ development.
Companies have invested about $150 million into BTR and employ 850 people, and the ownership transfer from a tax-exempt public university to private companies has generated about $10 million total for Oshtemo Township, Miller said.
Some buildings house single companies, and others house several or act as incubators for new businesses.
Companies using the park include those in the fields of life science, IT, engineering, construction, industrial design and more. Some companies with locations in the park include Tetra Discovery Partners, the Fortune 500 company Newell Brands, Proteos and Michigan Office Solutions.
The new development is expected to attract and incubate new similar businesses and expand other partnerships, Miller said.
He said there are several benefits for companies located in the park.
A designated SmartZone, the mostly technology-based companies have access to needed high-speed internet, and funds resulting in property tax increases are reinvested into the park’s infrastructure.
Miller said he believes having a location on a research campus could speak to the culture of companies, showing they strive to maintain best practices in their fields.
“We want to recruit companies that are willing to partner with us and our core missions of research and instruction,” Miller said.
He said many companies partner with WMU in several ways, including offering internships to students that sometimes lead to jobs.
That’s been true for civil engineering consulting firm SME, which annually works with WMU students at its location in the park and employs several WMU alumni, according to Timothy Mitchell, the company’s vice president and director of regional operations in Kalamazoo.
SME has partnered with WMU in other ways, as well. Mitchell is a member of the university’s department of civil and construction engineering advisory board and has taught class sessions.
Being located at the park also makes the companies eligible for perks such as discounts for WMU arts and sports tickets, and gym memberships.
Mitchell said the park also allows for easy collaboration between companies. Since its facility was built about 12 years ago, he said SME has worked directly with most all of the several neighboring civil engineering companies.
Miller said both parks are focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship, the first earning national recognition for features such as its stormwater management design.
Plans for BTR 2 are to maintain 50 percent of the land as open space, a feature Mitchell thinks adds to a refreshing work environment.
Mitchell said he can see the Asylum Lake Preserve from his office window and often sees people using the walking paths throughout the park.
Planning for the park took three years and included a community advisory committee, discussions with the nearby neighborhoods and public comment solicited through social media and a dedicated website. Input from these sessions led to design features that integrate the goals of the park with and protect natural features of the land.
Initial designs were carried out by Kalamazoo-based landscape architecture firm O'Boyle, Cowell, Blalock, & Associates and Grand Rapids-based engineering, environmental sciences, architecture and construction management consulting firm Fishbeck Thompson Carr & Huber, which has a location at BTR.
The portion of the Asylum Lake Preserve near the property is being protected from development and will include a public boardwalk, observation platform, walking path and benches.
Nesting bats and a rare orchid on the property also will be protected, and a bee colony was relocated to ensure it would not be disturbed.
Plans also include protecting mature trees and creating an oak savanna, filling much of the green space with native and low-maintenance plants.
Diseased apple trees will be eliminated, and care will be taken to ensure the illness does not spread.
Miller said plans will be carried out to align with requirements to be designated Sustainable Sites Certified, a rating system that focuses on designing with sustainable soils, landscapes and water management strategies.
Oshtemo Township shared the cost of the site design, which led to a recent $2.1-million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help pay for site development in the form of roads and utilities, which now enables the project to move forward.
Initial site work will go out for bid in early 2019, with work expected to begin sometime in the first quarter.
The Road Commission of Kalamazoo County also has helped with the planning and development. The main road providing access to tenant properties in BTR 2 will be transferred to the road commission upon completion.