Grand Rapids: Medical Mile serves as a catalyst
It was a little less than two decades ago that local business leaders could see what was unfolding in West Michigan. The industrial sector was steadily declining, and companies were either going out of business or moving away. It was evident that something had to be done.
That’s when two hometown heroes, Amway founders Richard DeVos and Jay Van Andel, proposed their vision to turn Grand Rapids into one of the top medical services cities in the world. Their leadership and philanthropic efforts spurred a series of events, forever changing the landscape, mentality and image of Grand Rapids.
One of the city’s first streets, Michigan Street, running parallel to I-196, was the initial site of their vision. In 1996, Jay and Betty Van Andel founded the Van Andel Institute. They broke ground in 1998, and the Van Andel Institute opened its doors in 2000. The institute is now home to scientific research that is focused primarily on cancer and Parkinson’s disease and has received more than $1 billion in research funding.
The original development was a $60 million facility. In 2010, the institute opened a second phase with an additional 242,000 square feet at a cost of $175 million.
Butterworth Hospital, now part of Spectrum Health, sits atop the hill on Michigan Street. In 1993, the Helen DeVos Women and Children’s Center moved to the site working as part of Spectrum Health.
In 2011, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital opened its doors to a 440,000-square-foot facility at a cost of $286 million, largely funded by the DeVos family. Spectrum Health combined with other local generous donors to found the Meijer Heart Center and the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion, costing about $137 million and $78 million, respectively.
The Medical Mile is host to Michigan State University’s (MSU) College of Human Medicine, Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, Grand Rapids Community College’s Calkins Science Center, and Ferris State University’s pharmacy program.
MSU’s building is 180,000 square feet, and GVSU’s is 217,000 square feet, costing $90 million and $57 million respectively. In total, more than $1.2 billion has been invested in the Medical Mile and the surrounding area on world-class medical facilities.
The problem isn’t a lack of interest in the Medical Mile, but rather a lack of space. The corridor has barriers on all sides: the freeway to the north; the Grand River to the west; Heritage Hill, a historic part of Grand Rapids with 1,300 homes dating back as far as 1848 to the east and south; and the rest of downtown to the southwest.
The developers of Midtowne Village, a six-building complex that houses the 100,000-square-foot Women’s Health Center, had to get the zoning of their site changed as well as purchase and demolish 46 homes.
Other organizations are beginning to look for vacated buildings that can be occupied for their use. GVSU plans to cross the expressway to the north and develop another site for medical use, and MSU is in the process of acquiring the old Grand Rapids Press building that remains vacant with the presses still inside.
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