University of Michigan's ex-Pfizer site acquisition is 'watershed moment'
Call it the University of Michigan’s $108 million transformation.
U-M’s acquisition of Pfizer’s 30-building, 173.5-acre former campus in northern Ann Arbor - a deal completed in mid-June - marks a transition of massive proportions.
University leaders will shape the site’s future this fall after several committees involving some 200 university officials and Ann Arbor business leaders deliver a series of recommendations for the research campus.
Based on the recommendations that will be finalized in coming weeks, workers could begin moving into ex-Pfizer space by January. University officials emphasize that the transition - focusing on expanding research opportunities - would be deliberate and methodical, not rushed.
Stephen Forrest, U-M’s vice president for research and chairman of Ann Arbor SPARK, said the university’s acquisition of the ex-Pfizer site marks an unprecedented opportunity.
“It’s truly a watershed moment in the university’s history - probably the biggest event in 50 or maybe 100 years,” he said in an interview at the ex-Pfizer site.
But Forrest also argued that the site’s transition could prove to be an economic turning point for the area.
“Ann Arbor is already regarded as an innovation center,” he said. “We see this as a shot in the arm of the intellectual vitality of our
The implications are widespread:
â€¢ Research revolution: U-M is rethinking its research strategies and planning to invest heavily on various forms of research
at the site, including the most promising areas in biomedical, alternative energy and
nanotechnology. The new site is likely to encourage new types of collaborations and open research environments that produce innovation.
â€¢ Business engagement: Companies that spin out of the university may get incubator space at the university, officials indicated. The university wants to engage other industrial partners in expanded collaborative research and commercialization opportunities.
â€¢ Community impact: City leaders briefly bemoaned the lost tax dollars due to the acquisition, but officials are hopeful that the deal's ripple effects will ultimately inject new talent into the local workforce
â€¢ Redevelopment opportunities: The site includes a 29-acre swath of undeveloped land on Plymouth Road. Forrest said “nobody’s given hardly any thought” yet on how to approach that land.
The site’s future became clouded when Pfizer announced in January 2007 that it would abandon the campus by the end of 2008, displacing more than 2,100 workers. The company’s slow exodus from Ann Arbor - its last workers left in October 2008 - coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis, which virtually eliminated interested real estate developers or pharmaceutical companies from acquiring the site.
The deal gives U-M instant access to office space and labs, but Medical School Dean James Woolliscroft, who is overseeing the transition, said the university is sticking by its initial plan of deciding what to do with the property over a period of 12 to 18 months.
“It’s going to be evolving,” he said. It’s important “to get it right, rather than do what’s expedient.”(Photos and slideshow by AnnArbor.com's Lon Horwedel. Top, Dr. James Woolliscroft, dean of the University of Michigan Medical School, and Stephen Forrest, vice president for research, at the former Pfizer facility.)
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