U-M will break ground on UMCI by year’s end


Source: Michigan News

The University of Michigan Center for Innovation will be built in the District Detroit near where the cornerstone of the first building of the university was laid on Sept. 14, 1817 in Detroit. Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents has approved agreements related to land donation and purchases, and a $100 million gift from top donor Stephen M. Ross to build the U-M Center for Innovation in Detroit.

Regents, who took the action at their October meeting on the UM-Flint campus, voted in favor of:

  • A gift agreement with Ross for $100 million paid out over 10 years
  • A donation of 2.08 acres at the intersection of Grand River Avenue and West Columbia Street from Olympia Development of Michigan on which to build the UMCI and the $9.6 million purchase of 1.18-acres across from the UMCI on which to build a parking structure 
  • Proceeding with the project and hiring the architectural firm of Kohn, Pedersen, Fox to design the six-story building

“UMCI is essential to our future, and that’s why I’m so excited about today’s decision by the Board of Regents,” President Santa J. Ono said. “I’m also incredibly grateful to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state of Michigan for its $100 million grant, to Stephen Ross for his generous gift and vision, to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who has championed this project from the start, and to our many other supporters and friends and partners who are making this future possible. 

U-M President Santa J. Ono.

“Our founding as a university traces back to Detroit in 1817, so it’s critical to me that we are more than the University of Michigan, we are also the University for Michigan.”

The university will break ground on the UMCI by the end of the year, a date to be determined. Approval of the project also means a director can be hired to help shape the center’s offerings.

UMCI will be a world-class research, education and entrepreneurship center designed to advance innovation and talent-focused community development to propel city, region and statewide job creation and inclusive economic growth by stimulating economic development in Detroit. 

“The action we have just taken—approving the construction of the University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit—elevates our commitment to Detroit and the state of Michigan to a new level,” said Regent Mark Bernstein. “Although we have always remained meaningfully connected to Detroit, this is a bit of a homecoming for us.”

He noted that the cornerstone of the first building of the university was laid on Sept. 14, 1817—near the corner of Bates and Congress streets in Detroit—not too far from where the new UMCI will be located.

The center, along with the P-20 Partnership at the School at Marygrove, the $40 million Rackham building renovation, the U-M Detroit Center, which opened in 2005 in Midtown, and hundreds of other projects U-M works on with community partners around the city, are examples of how the university has stepped up its community engagement in the city in recent years.

The UMCI is expected to take three years to build at a cost of $250 million. It will be funded with the Ross gift plus $100 million from the state of Michigan. An additional $50 million will be raised from donors, said Geoffrey Chatas, U-M executive vice president and chief financial officer. 

Chatas, Provost Laurie McCauley and Tom Baird, vice president for development, made the recommendation to regents. 

“The center is also designed to advance innovation and talent-focused community development to enhance job creation in the region and propel economic growth in the great city of Detroit,” Chatas said. “We are grateful for the tremendous support given to this initiative by both the state of Michigan and Stephen Ross, and we are committed to ensuring these investments in Detroit and the university make a lasting impact.”

UMCI will be built to accommodate the academic and community programs including three distinct types of activity—graduate education, talent-based community development and community engagement—all in the service of economic development and job growth for Detroit. 

“The University of Michigan is coming back home! Thank you to President Santa Ono and the U-M Regents. With their action today, the University of Michigan will be a huge part of Detroit’s future with the new Innovation Center,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “This was made possible by the generous donation of Stephen Ross, the support of Governor Whitmer and the State of Michigan, and the partnership of Chris Ilitch. Detroit’s future just got even brighter today because of all their efforts.”

McCauley said graduate programs would focus on technology, robotics, sustainability and computer science with inaugural degrees in robotics and electrical engineering sponsored by the College of Engineering, urban technology from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and sustainability and just transitions from the School for Environment and Sustainability.

“We look forward to deepening our connections with Detroit through service and education, and to continued partnership and engagement across the Detroit community as this exciting endeavor moves forward,” McCauley said. 

The center will increase U-M’s ability to support academic and research activity in the city while sparking more engagement with the Detroit community from faculty and students, and will support ongoing university programs for Detroit K-12 students such as the Michigan Engineering Zone and ArcPrep.

In addition to the academic programs, the Center for Innovation also will provide noncredit-based talent development programs that will cover in-demand skill areas, such as programming, data science, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and leadership. 

“These efforts have already begun this year, including a series of successful youth camps and adult learning programs offered to Detroit residents in the form of the ‘Saturdays in the D’ program. We look forward to hosting these activities in the U-M Center for Innovation once constructed,” McCauley said.

Baird noted that with this donation, Ross has given more than $460 million to U-M.

“Mr. Ross has deep family roots in Detroit, and he is incredibly committed to both the university and the Michigan community,” Baird said. “From its onset, he has been a stalwart supporter of this very exciting opportunity for U-M, Detroit and the state of Michigan.”

Regents also approved $20 million from the overall project budget to go for early bids to specialty contractors and for site preparation. Regents will be asked to approve the remaining construction contracts and schedule when the schematic design is presented for approval, Chatas said.

Chatas said the early work would include design assistance on the exterior wall system along with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. 

Chatas said UMCI would be the first of three buildings to go up on the four-acre property owned by Olympia. The land not being used by UMCI would allow for two other buildings to be constructed by a developer at a future date. 

UMCI will benefit from being near the proposed $1.5 billion, 10-building mixed-use development that Related Companies and Olympia Development have joined forces to develop in The District Detroit near the Fox Theatre and professional sports stadiums.

As UMCI proceeds, it also presents opportunities for the Rackham Memorial building, located in Detroit’s Midtown, Chatas said. It could offer a chance to collaborate with community partners in new ways.

“We are excited to continue the design, planning and programming process for Rackham Detroit, which is another example of U-M’s commitment to having a positive impact on the people of Detroit,” Chatas said.

Regents approved plans to renovate the Rackham building in December 2021 along with committing $40 million to see it through.

Back to News + Stories