Original Article: CrainsDetroit.com  |  By:Tom Henderson:  |  Phone: (313) 446-0337  
Email: thenderson@crain.com  |  Twitter: @tomhenderson2

Dalgleish Cadillac site to house hundreds of researchers

The former Dalgleish Cadillac building on Cass Avenue in Midtown will be the focal point of the largest construction project in the history of Wayne State University: a $93 million, 200,000-square-foot biomed research center.

The first phase of the project is expected to begin this summer with demolition of the old American Beauty Iron Building at Burroughs and Woodward avenues. The site will become a parking lot for the research building.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes $30 million for the Multidisciplinary Biomedical Research Building project, said Kurt Weiss, public information officer for the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

The Legislature is scheduled to approve the budget by the end of May.

The rest of the financing will come from a combination of philanthropy and debt, said WSU President Allan Gilmour.

The extensive rehab will begin in November on the 127,000-square-foot Albert Kahn building, built in 1927 to house the Walter J. Bemb Buick-Pontiac dealership.

The Dalgleish family operated a Cadillac dealership there from 1964 until 2009, when General Motors Co. pulled the plug on dealerships nationwide. It was the last Cadillac dealership in the city.

Wayne State also plans to build a 75,000-square-foot addition on the north side of the building, on the site of Dalgleish’s former used car lot.

When completed, the research building will house WSU programs in cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, bioinformatics and computational biology and biomedical engineering.

It is expected to house hundreds of researchers. Gilmour said the plan is to have 40-50 broadly based research teams housed in the center. He said the school will conduct an extensive recruiting campaign based on the new building and its proximity to TechTown, the Henry Ford Health System and its new Innovation Institute and the Detroit Medical Center.

Gilmour said he plans to recruit half of the research teams from other universities, with about 450 researchers based in the facility once it opens.

Harley Ellis Devereaux Corp. is the architect and Barton Malow Co. is the project manger for the biomed center. Both companies are based in Southfield. The first phase is scheduled to be completed early in 2015.

What is envisioned as a collaborative project involving WSU’s School of Medicine, College of Engineering and math and economics departments — as well as other area institutions — already has a commitment for at least one partner.

The Henry Ford Health System will move its joint and bone research program and its biomechanics motion laboratory from its West Grand Boulevard campus to 16,000 square feet in the Dalgleish building, according to Jim Connelly, Henry Ford’s executive vice president and CFO.

Connelly said the move will involve about 25, including scientists and support staff.

“This is all so wonderful. I don’t know how else to put it,” said Connelly, who said the decision evolved from an agreement to do joint research the two organizations signed in 2010.

“We’ll be able to create more together than we would individually. We’ll be working very closely with Wayne State’s biomedical engineers, and there’s a powerful outcome in putting people in the same place,” he said.

Connelly said there will be opportunities for those at the Innovation Institute, which was launched last year to commercialize medical research and technology, to do joint projects with Wayne State researchers and to jointly create for-profit companies.

David Egner, executive director of the Detroit-based New Economy Initiative, a $100 million initiative formed in 2008 by 10 regional and national foundations to spur economic development in Southeast Michigan, said the biomed center is a major achievement for the Woodward corridor.

“With TechTown, NextEnergy and now the multidisciplinary research building, we’re creating an innovative center that will be the hub of commercialization and new business startups,” he said.

In March, Egner announced more than $30 million in grants for projects in Southeast Michigan, most of them targeting Midtown, including a $1.4 million grant for Midtown Detroit Inc. to create a real estate subsidiary to focus on development in the immediate area around TechTown.

“This fits right in with what Midtown Detroit is doing to create a master plan for that district and help build out the area as an innovation campus. Between what Dan Gilbert is doing downtown and what is going on in Midtown, we’ll have a three-mile innovation corridor that will be unrivaled in the country,” said Egner.

Early in 2010, WSU bought the Dalgleish building for $1 million with the intention of it becoming the Tech Two Building as part of the TechTown complex. The Tech One Building around the corner on Burroughs was at full capacity and had a long waiting list of would-be tenants.

But the always cash-strapped business incubator never had the money in its budget for the extensive renovations needed to support a modern tech incubator.

Gilmour said that the school has been mulling over a new research building for some time. As it became clear TechTown likely wouldn’t be able to renovate the building, it dawned on him, he said, “that we’ve already got a darn good building” to convert into biomedical research.

“We like the idea of being right between the Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center,” he said.

Gilmour said that while the poured concrete and reinforced steel of the Dalgleish building will drive up construction costs, it will also result in a building that is perfect for the extremely sensitive equipment used in scientific research.

“Instruments are so finely calibrated that researchers are always worried about vibrations. There won’t be any worries about vibration with this building. It’s solid,” he said.

Gilmour said phase two of the biomedical research complex will include eventually building something on the former site of the American Beauty Iron Building, “either by us or with a partner. More and more, the opportunities in research will come from partnerships.”

He said there is no timetable to begin phase two and no budget projections.

Gilmour said the multidisciplinary approach is favored by such major grant organizations as the National Science FoundationU.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Healthand will have as a major focus the creation of for-profit spinoff companies.