The Medical School has invested more than $300 million to transform the space and operate it — at one-tenth the cost it would have taken to build similar facilities from the ground up
An astounding piece of news hit Ann Arbor in January 2007: A giant pharmaceutical company would leave town, after 50 years of developing new medicines in the northeast corner of the city.
Its sprawling 174-acre campus, with 2 million square feet of research labs and offices, and 2,000 employees, would soon fall silent. As the Great Recession arrived in 2008, the chance that another company would buy the complex faded.
But behind the scenes at the University of Michigan, leaders and researchers had their own ideas.
What if the university bought the former Pfizer campus, to address a research space crunch and enable scientists from many fields to work together in new ways? What if researchers could fill the vacant buildings with new centers and institutes, created to tackle major research challenges and foster interdisciplinary collaboration with industry? And what if the university could bring together the widely scattered support services that help research run smoothly, and offer amenities to enhance the quality of work and life?
Those what-ifs crystallized into a plan. By summer 2009, U-M bought the property for $108 million and renamed it the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).
Today, 10 years later, more than 3,300 U-M faculty, staff, and students; and employees of private companies report to work at NCRC each day. The Medical School has invested more than $300 million to transform the space and operate it — at one-tenth the cost it would have taken to build similar facilities from the ground up.
And NCRC has fulfilled the vision of fostering new types of cross-disciplinary research and new entities organized around a research goal instead of an academic department. All of those what-ifs have turned into reality.