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Posted on Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 2:07 p.m.

University of Michigan plans 'major' investment in renovations at ex-Pfizer site in Ann Arbor

By Nathan Bomey

The University of Michigan expects to make a "major" investment in upgrades to at 174-acre ex-Pfizer complex to get the complex up to full capacity over the next several years, the site’s leader said today.

U-M expects to have about 1,000 employees working at the ex-Pfizer complex within two years, said David Canter, executive director of the renamed North Campus Research Complex.


David Canter, executive director of the University of Michigan's North Campus Research Complex, said the ex-Pfizer site will need additional renovations to get up to full capacity.

Nathan Bomey |

The university also plans to create “the largest university-based health systems research group anywhere in the world” at the site, Canter told a group of scientists and university officials this morning in an event organized by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute and the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research.

But Canter said the pace of the site’s repositioning hinges on the university’s ability to raise private funds dedicated specifically to that purpose.

U-M previously indicated that it was seeking to raise about $200 million to support the NCRC, where the university plans to add 2,000 to 3,000 jobs over 10 years. But a U-M spokeswoman today said that figure is no longer accurate and that a specific figure had not been determined.

Canter said those funds would support renovations that need to occur at some parts of the 2 million square feet of ex-Pfizer facilities. He did not offer a specific projection of how much the university would have to invest.

“The repurposing of buildings is challenging,” Canter said. “Most of them need a little bit of something, and some of the buildings are going to need major repurposing.”

He said “it’s only going to happen if friends of the university who have the capacity to give us” private funding embrace the cause.

So far in 2010, the university has revived 6-and-a-half buildings at the site and moved in about 400 workers. Officials are prepping to launch laboratory research operations.

“It really does take quite a bit of time to restart them,” said Canter, who formerly led the complex as Pfizer’s vice president for global research and development. “The buildings are very complicated. It’s not like going up north in the winter and switching on the switch in your cottage. It’s a very, very different world.”


U-M expects about 1,000 workers to be employed at the ex-Pfizer site within two years.

Lon Horwedel |

Still, the university plans to ramp up the pace of move-in soon. The university’s Technology Transfer Office and Business Engagement Center moved this week to the site, where they will be collocated together in a 32,000-square-foot space that will include space for U-M startup companies.

The university plans to use the site to advance its partnerships with industry and launch interdisciplinary research operations in areas such as medical devices, oncology, imaging, cardiovascular science and health services research.

Health services research is emerging as a key aspect of the university’s strategy for the site.

Canter said that in the planning process for the ex-Pfizer site, the university began to realize that it had an assortment of health care management assets scattered in different locations across its campus. The Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research has already moved to the site.

“The idea of bringing them together under one room and, we hope, in partnerships with groups at the VA, represents a really exciting idea,” Canter said.

Canter also:

--Said the university is developing a strategy for the massive drug manufacturing complex on the east side of Huron Parkway at the site. U-M has previously indicated that it would like to establish a public-private partnership at the site. “It’s, in fact, well-recognized throughout this country as being the only one of its kind in the United States,” Canter said. “We need to decide what we are going to do with this.”

--Indicated the university wants to have four to five outside companies, not U-M startups, operating at the site within two years, including two new companies within the next year. U-M has already signed a lease with a Michigan State University startup chemical company for 4,000 square feet of specialized lab space at the site.

--Said the university wants to launch an “interdisciplinary energy hub” within two years at the site to pursue new technologies.

--Suggested that the university’s technological focus at the site could change over the years. “The right people are going to be more important than the right programs,” he said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Sat, Oct 2, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

Just make sure they are American companies. We don't need to give away technolgy or provide opportunities to foreign companies.


Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

World Class Facility

Somewhat Concerned

Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

Ah, the great bargain turns out to need more money for renovations than it cost to buy. More words, words, words, disguised as a plan. A year later, and it's still big ideas, announcements, and nothing new other than the bombshell that it needs a couple of hundred million dollars more to make something happen because the great, state-of-the-art facility isn't ready for use and there's not much demand for it. Maybe UM's president, Mary Sue Coleman, can get Johnson & Johnson to move in. After all, she's on their board of directors and has personally received a couple of hundred thousand dollars from them. She could do something for the U.


Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 4 p.m.

The facilities were state of the art for drug discovery. What type of renovations are needed and for what type of research are they being prepared for?


Fri, Oct 1, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

so glad to see plans for something at this complex. Glad it's not just gonna sit there vacant like it would have in perhaps Detroit.