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Ferris want to create urban campus in DT GR

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Ferris wants targets GR street

Monday, November 15, 2004

By Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- Ferris State University has had a presence in Grand Rapids for years, but who knew?

With offices and classrooms scattered downtown, the Big Rapids-based university lacks a unified campus in Grand Rapids people can recognize, administrators say.

Today, Ferris leaders are unveiling a plan to create an urban campus aimed at increasing the school's profile in Grand Rapids. They want to close a street and build an outdoor plaza that would link three high-profile buildings, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Ferris' Kendall College of Art and Design.

The cost: $6 million to $10 million over five years.

To create the plaza, Ferris planners propose closing one block of Pearl Street NW between Ionia and Division avenues and making it a campus focal point. The street closing would need city approval.

"To make a campus, it has to feel like a campus," said architect Ken Neumann, of Southfield.

The art museum, at 155 N. Division Ave., would anchor the campus. The city will turn over the historic building to Ferris in 2006, when the museum relocates to a building overlooking Rosa Parks Circle NW.

Ferris has a presence in buildings on two sides of the museum: Kendall College to the south and student apartments at 5 Lyon St. NW to the north. The school also will keep its presence on the nearby Grand Rapids Community College campus, where its professional and technical college is based, administrators said.

At 5 Lyon, plans call for adding classrooms and a student-run optometry clinic on the building's lower floors.

At the museum, it calls for transforming the building for classrooms, student workshops, faculty offices, a library, art exhibition galleries, a cafe and an art supply/bookstore.

But the university has a long way to go before it will be allowed to close Pearl Street, city Patrick Bush, the city's public works director.

Seventeen city departments, including police, fire, streets and traffic safety would have to review and sign off on the plan, he said.

Ferris also must submit a traffic impact analysis, Bush said. The block is used by about 8,000 vehicles a day.

The school's lack of parking downtown also is a concern for Ferris administrators. Based on campus growth, they project needing space for 2,300 cars. There are nearly 1,000 Ferris students in Grand Rapids, and nearly 12,000 at the main campus in Big Rapids.

Ferris President David Eisler said he realizes parking is a major issue, but he is not ready to roll out a long-term solution. "There aren't simple answers."

Press writer Jim Harger contributed to this report.

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