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Muskegon to sell land to medical research facility that tests on animals

Northern Biomedical Research does research on drugs, medical devices and gene and cell therapies. They test on monkeys, dogs, rodents, pigs and sheep.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The Muskegon City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the sale of 2725 Olthoff Drive, where the West Shoreline Correctional Facility once stood before the prison closed. The city took ownership of the land in 2019 and was awarded a $4 million state enhancement grant to redevelop the site.

The city is selling the land to Northern Biomedical Research, a company that previously called Muskegon home, before moving to neighboring Norton Shores. The company now wants to move back to Muskegon so it can expand.

City leaders say the move would bring 70 existing jobs to Muskegon with the potential to create more jobs as part of the company's expansion. Estimates range from 50 to 400 new jobs. City leaders say the facility will also bring a considerable amount of tax revenue to the city.

"It's hundreds of thousands of dollars in new property tax income. It's likely tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of new income tax revenue. It's going to be an important piece of the of the local economy, and we're excited to see the investment," said City Manager Frank Peterson.

Northern Biomedical Research does medical testing on non-human primates, dogs, rodents, pigs and sheep, according to their website. The company hopes to help develop "cures for treatment of unmet medical needs." 

Peterson, who toured the company's Norton Shores facility, says the animals are euthanized at the conclusion of the company's research.

A handful of meeting attendees spoke during a public comment session against the sale, saying they don't want Muskegon to play a role in animal testing, even if it brings money and jobs to the city.

"Some of you have to own animals. One animal is not less than another. I don't care if it's a monkey. I don't care if it's a rat. One animal is not less than another. And I really hope you think about this, and don't let your your want of money and jobs win out over what the humane thing is to do," one woman said.

Peterson and Mayor Ken Johnson pointed out that the US Food and Drug Administration requires animal testing to ensure the safety of many drugs and medical devices, so this testing will be done regardless of whether it happens in Muskegon or somewhere else. They also said they were excited about the medical advancements that could come from the facility and how they could benefit humanity.

"I, for one, would be proud if Muskegon were to be home to a company that contributed to cures for very debilitating diseases," Johnson said.

"The financial part helps as well. I'll be honest. I have an obligation to do what I think is in the best interest of the city and its citizens. And not only can treatment and the research that happens at this facility help improve people's lives from a medical and health perspective, but I do see the investments by this company in terms of job creation, in terms of supporting our tax base."

Some city commissioners, including Teresa Emory and Rebecca St. Clair, said they had mixed feelings about animal testing, but they ultimately voted for the sale because they believed it was what was best for Muskegon.

"Everybody who knows me, knows I have a great love for animals, but you know, I have an even greater love for the health and the well-being and the livelihood of the human, my human neighbors, and citizens, and my loved ones. And that's the greater benefit there. That outweighs even my love for animals," Emory said.

Northern Biomedical Research is the first of what Peterson calls "three really viable end users for the [former West Shoreline Correctional Facility] site." 

It's not yet clear who else is interested in buying a piece of the property.


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