Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Van Andel Institute built upon a vision

The late Jay Van Andel had a new vision for Michigan Street hill, and with the help of what was then Butterworth Hospital, he was able to fulfill that vision.

Jay Van Andel’s vision was to build a medical research institute that would not be encumbered by the normal bureaucracy that was seen in university centers, Steve Heacock, chief administrative officer and general counsel for the institute, told an audience today at the University of Michigan & Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum.  Jay Van Andel’s vision was for a scientific community that would encourage collaborative and novel approaches to medical research within its own labs and with other organizations in West Michigan and institutes throughout the world. His goal was to build an institution that would be a catalyst for the development of a life sciences environment, Heacock explained. 

“The Van Andel Institute as an entity probably more comfortably belongs in San Diego, or Seattle or Boston,” Heacock said. But that wasn’t what Jay wanted. He wanted to make it happen here and help create and be part of a high density life sciences cluster.”

Today on the Medical Mile there is much to compliment Van Andel’s original vision, Heacock noted: the Lemmon-Holton Cancer Center, the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, Grand Rapids Community College’s Science Center, Grand Valley State University’s Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, the recently dedicated Hauenstein Center, and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and the Michigan Street Development that are all under way. 

“These really are exciting and dynamic times in West Michigan,” Heacock said.

Ground was broken on Phase I of the VAI in 1998 and the facility’s grand opening was held in 2000. The building is set into a steep hill, and its three-segmented convex glass roofs cascade down the east side of the building, evoking the rapids of the nearby Grand River.

The VAI broke ground in April 2007 on a $170 million Phase II expansion that will triple its laboratory space and allow for a broadened research focus that includes neurological disorders and other chronic illnesses. The eight-story, 240,000-square-foot addition is being built on to the institute’s existing facility on Bostwick Avenue. When that project is completed in late 2009, the institute will have 402,000 square feet of space.
The expansion will open the doors to 550 new positions. When the facility is fully built, staffed and operating at capacity, it will employ 800 researchers and administrative staff whose work will be supported by a $125 million annual budget. The institute is funded by a combination of its endowment, research grants and private philanthropy.

With more labs and with a larger research team, the VAI will advance new initiatives in basic and translational research, Heacock said. The institute will be able to move more aggressively into research related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease, for instance, in addition to some other areas of cancer research.

Cancer killed about 560,000 men, women and children last year, so there’s more work to do, Heacock said.

“I think what were doing here in Grand Rapids will make a difference in people’s lives.”

—Anne Bond Emrich

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