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WMU Foundation will not purchase Pfizer facility

Dec. 26, 2006

KALAMAZOO--With the closing deadline approaching and negotiations still under way, the Western Michigan University Foundation has informed Pfizer Inc. that it will withdraw from a purchase agreement to acquire the downtown Kalamazoo facility known as Building 126.

The decision was reached last week, according to WMU Foundation President Joseph B. Hemker, when University officials decided the costs of running the facility should not be added to the University budget. The University was to lease the building from the foundation, use part of it for faculty research and lease the rest to private-sector science firms. The annual cost of operating the building is pegged at $1.5 to $2 million.

"We appreciate Pfizer's willingness to transfer this building and keep it operating in the community, and the company has been supportive throughout the process," Hemker said. "But the University has let us know that the ongoing financial commitment required is simply too steep to take on at this time."

Building 126, on East Lovell Street in downtown Kalamazoo, was slated for purchase at the end of 2006 by the WMU Foundation for $3.8 million. The foundation, which receives private donor funds on behalf of the University, then intended to make the facility available to the University to provide room for WMU science initiatives to expand and a site where science firms could lease research space. The deal was announced in December 2005.

Built by the Upjohn Co. in 1964, the 160,000-square-foot building currently houses unused laboratory space, maintenance and other offices. The building underwent a $35 million upgrade, completed in 2002.

Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach, has been the University's pointperson on the effort to turn the building into a private/public research facility. He says the University remains committed to doing anything it can to assist in any future initiative that would keep the facility as a community asset.

"Should the building be retained, we would continue to help recruit companies and try to identify University researchers with grant funding who could be a part of the mix as well," Miller says. "But in recent weeks, as the administration moved toward the transfer, it became apparent that the economic realities make it impossible for WMU to assume the additional financial burden required to operate such a center the way it needs to be run."

Miller says WMU President Diether H. Haenicke has been in consultation with faculty members and trustees on the issue, and the consensus was that the annual cost of operating the facility should be directed, instead, to WMU's core educational mission.

"This was an opportunity we hoped would be advantageous to both the University and the community," said Miller. "But it demands an investment in resources that, frankly, need to be directed toward carrying out the University's basic mission--providing educational opportunities for our students."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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