Land Use Recommendations


Programs and facilities

Academic and planning imperatives

The University’s Bolder by Design strategic initiative employs six imperatives to guide the institution’s teaching/learning, research, and outreach mission. The campus’s physical organization directly and indirectly supports these imperatives.

  • Enhancing the student experience
  • Enriching community, economic, and family life
  • Expanding international reach
  • Increasing research opportunities
  • Strengthening stewardship
  • Advancing a culture of high performance

The Campus Land Use Master Plan recognizes that land utilization must be optimized to support the academic mission; that extensive infrastructure systems are expensive to maintain; and that land conservation, especially in the research farms area, is mission critical. As a result, the plan centers on these smart growth principles:

  • Establishing a compact campus composition
  • Providing a variety of transportation choices
  • Preserving open space, farmland, and critical environmental areas
  • Developing a mix of land uses
  • Creating a walkable community

Facilities planning principles

The University continually examines the capital assets necessary to support academic programs and physical needs that involve new construction, comprehensive renewal, renovation, reprogramming of selected facilities, and renewal of major subsystems in other facilities. The assessment of existing facilities shows that the infrastructure components of many campus buildings have aged significantly. Despite ongoing maintenance and repair that extends the expected usable life of components well beyond industry standards, many buildings are now at a point where they require either significant investment or replacement.

Space planning seeks to support student success, growth of the research enterprise, infrastructure stewardship, and operational efficiencies by:

  • aligning space resources with academic framework;
  • allocating and utilizing space strategically;
  • supporting a range of teaching and research methodologies;
  • leveraging emerging technology;
  • effecting operational efficiencies and cost effectiveness;
  • anticipating evolving teaching and research environments;
  • forecasting changes in demand and aging infrastructure;
  • providing accessibility based on universal design and inclusion; and
  • assessing strategic property acquisitions.

Projected facility needs

Michigan State University, through the Office of Planning and Budgets, employs a continuous capital planning process that integrates academic, support, fiscal, and physical planning. Institutional participation in the planning process ensures that consideration is given to relevant issues and that decisions support the University’s direction and mission.

Following a very detailed and carefully conceived planning process, it was estimated that the University will need a 10 percent increase in building space over the next 20 years. The growth in space is driven by a planned increase in the number of faculty and the anticipated increase in funded scientific research, selective and qualitative changes in academic teaching programs; enhancement of common facilities that enrich campus life and community; and consolidation and upgrading of operational support facilities.

Capital needs are informed by the Campus Land Use Master Plan and planning activities that occur within major components of the institution at regular cycles throughout the year. These components include the annual academic program planning and review, administrative support planning and review, deferred capital renewal, technology, utility systems, energy and sustainability planning, as well as planning for motorized and non-motorized circulation and open space. In this context, budgetary and fiscal analyses at the local, state, and federal levels are taken into account.

Within each component of planning, a number of more detailed issues are reviewed and examined relative to their impact on facilities over the short and long term. One approach used for this more detailed planning is the Campus Infrastructure Planning Work Group. Bringing together a comprehensive cross section of University constituents, the group evaluates major construction projects on a number of dimensions to ensure conformity with the Campus Land Use Master Plan’s planning principles, physical recommendations, and the University Zoning Ordinance as adopted by the Board of Trustees.

As a matter of operating philosophy and practice, facility planning encompasses the following issues:

  • Renovations, as well as maintenance of existing campus facilities and new construction, are focused to support programs that are central to the University’s academic mission.
  • A fundamental guiding principle is that planning is holistic and comprehensive. In addition to capital renewal of existing facilities, academic program needs are considered and facility adaptation is planned accordingly. A premium is placed on reuse of existing facilities, on conservation of open space, energy conservation, and on health, safety, security, and regulatory requirements. Barrier-free modifications are given priority, and needs related to technology are considered. Where appropriate, fixed building equipment, particularly for laboratories and classrooms, is included in the plans.
  • New construction and renovation of existing facilities are planned so a project’s financial investment actively reflects the life cycle of the facility in relation to the needs of the program, while providing flexibility in the structure to accommodate potential changes over the longer term. Through the “least life cycle cost analysis,” facilities are positioned to be responsive to immediate programmatic needs, as well as longer-term adaptation needs brought about by changes in programs, advances in technology, and related issues.
  • The least life cycle cost analysis also enables project development to focus on designs that reduce the ongoing maintenance cost of facilities. Within this context, MSU’s high-quality construction standards intentionally create plans and assemble materials that “design out” as much near and long-term maintenance as possible. In summary, the anticipated expenses of a facility over its life cycle are carefully considered in relation to the initial investment in design and materials. Project decisions made within the context of MSU’s construction standards may, in some cases, be viewed as more expensive initially but, in practice, actually reduce the total cost of ownership.

Future building opportunities

Future building opportunities are depicted on two graphics. The first entitled Building Framework, illustrates future opportunities that do not require major demolition of existing facilities. The second graphic, entitled Major Redevelopment Opportunities, explores additional development parcels that will require careful assessment of existing facilities relative to highest and best land use, program relocation, deferred maintenance needs, and facility replacement costs. Both graphics employ the smart growth strategy of carefully conceived building “infill” to maximize land use capacity through greater building density.

The plans illustrate where future buildings can be assimilated into the campus context while reinforcing the Campus Planning Principles and University Zoning Ordinance. As such, the plans do not dictate when and where growth will occur, rather they identify development opportunities that can be evaluated to address specific programmatic needs when a project is identified and funding secured.

Each numbered site is measured and a potential building gross square foot yield is estimated by incorporating zoning allowances and important contextual features. Where development opportunity land areas are too large, and architectural speculation is not definable, a floor area ratio planning metric is assigned to estimate future building square footage.

Based on this assessment, the following quantifies future building opportunities for the campus lands north of Mount Hope Road. The estimated net potential represents future building opportunities less any existing building demolition. The campus has historically added, on average, approximately 2.0 million gross square feet (MGSF) every decade. At that rate, the net opportunities support nearly 58 years of future growth assuming each site is developed to its optimal capacity and all redevelopment zones are strategically implemented.

The following identifies future development potential based on opportunities that do not require significant redevelopment or removal of existing facilities.

Zoning Designation

Estimated Gross Potential

Estimated Net Potential

North Academic District

405,350 GSF

405,350 GSF

Central Academic District

1,832,615 GSF

1,832,615 GSF

South Academic District

2,457,686 GSF

2,457,686 GSF

Mixed Use District

4,538,950 GSF

3,733,890 GSF

Athletic/Recreation district

429,800 GSF

429,800 GSF

Service District

835,100 GSF

824,235 GSF

Residential District East

130,000 GSF

130,000 GSF

Total Opportunity (w/o redevelopemnt)

10,638,715 GSF

9,813,576 GSF

Adding in all redevelopment opportunities, the estimated future development potential increases as noted below.

Zoning Designation

Estimated Gross Potential

Estimated Net Potential

North Academic District

845,350 GSF

532,340 GSF

Central Academic District

3,560,115 GSF

3,169,583 GSF

South Academic District

2,457,686 GSF

2,457,686 GSF

Mixed Use District

4,538,950 GSF

3,733,300 GSF

Athletic/Recreation District

524,300 GSF

524,300 GSF

Service District

901,850 GSF

873,143 GSF

Residential District East

642,750 GSF

231,582 GSF

Total Opportunity (with redevelopment)

13,480,215 GSF

11,522,524 GSF

Strategic land acquisition

The University continually assesses land adjacent to the campus for acquisition to meet academic and research needs. The existing USDA Avian Disease and Oncology Lab at Harrison and Mount Hope Roads is a land acquisition priority due to its strategic location within the contiguous campus boundary. The University has communicated its intent to reacquire this parcel to congressional representatives and will communicate with the United States Department of Agriculture when a formal decision to relocate the facility is announced.

100-year floodplain and storm water management

Campus land is reserved to provide future storm water management facilities that will address municipal storm water regulations under the Clean Water Act. Individual building projects are evaluated by the University Engineer and a technical work group to assess its ability to meet current storm water management regulations on site. If a project cannot meet its requirements on site, due to existing development constraints or other unique project attributes, then the University has the option of utilizing a sub watershed facility in another location on campus per Michigan Department of Environmental Quality agreements.

Two important Campus Land Use Master Plan recommendations will help reduce the impact on the Red Cedar River. First, the removal/relocation of Parking Ramp #2 (Auditorium Road) will convert a sizeable amount of land back to its function as floodplain. Second, the removal and relocation of approximately 1,000 surface parking spaces in the Central Academic District will remove an existing land use that has negative impacts both in terms of storm water quantity and quality.

Open space and landscape

In 1980, President John A. Hannah remarked, “Long ago it was planned that the campus should be an outdoor laboratory, with all the variety of trees, shrubs, and woody plants that could be made to grow in Michigan, labeled and tagged not only for students in botany and silviculture and landscape architecture, but for all students and faculty and people in the community.”

President Hannah was reflecting on Professor William Beal’s 1872 proposal for a campus arboretum. Professor Beal hoped this would lead to a more formalized campus tree planting program. At the time, trees were grown in an arboretum located between what are today, Mary Mayo and Campbell Halls; from there they were transplanted across campus. Professor Beal conducted the first inventory of campus trees in the 1880’s and began the labeling program identifying trees by common name, scientific name, family, and geographic origin, a program which continues today (Telewski 2010). As envisioned by Professor Beal, the campus arboretum serves as a valuable resource for teaching, research, and outreach.

The MSU campus is renowned and beloved by students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors. As such, detailed recommendations are required to protect and enhance its open space and landscape aesthetic while maintaining an appropriate balance with the evolving built environment.

The Campus Land Use Master Plan provides a unifying vision for the campus open space and landscape aesthetic. The plan directs stewardship and preservation of the historic campus park and guides future enhancement of the built environment, including the campus as an arboretum for teaching, research, and public outreach.

Protected green space

Based on a detailed classification for the open space system, the following areas are deemed sensitive to development and are subject to protection from any new building footprint or material change to the campus landscape under the definitions and regulations of the University Zoning Ordinance.

Component 1 areas identify and protect landscape areas that have an ecological or historic aspect. Component 2 areas identify and protect green space that provides a unique programmatic or research land use.

District characteristics and planning guidelines

Historic and Historic Contributing

The park-like setting that students, alumni, and visitors endear is directly influenced by the historic campus landscape(s). The West Circle Drive area from Grand River Avenue to the Red Cedar River and from the Beal Entrance to the Lab Row building group is the site of the original built campus founded in 1855. The prairie-style landscape and informal grouping of buildings provides a picturesque campus park, unique among American college campuses. The trees and undulating lawns within the West Circle Drive area were recognized by O.C. Simonds as “sacred space” (circa 1905). The historic landscape shall be protected from future development and enhanced through landscape stewardship.

Park-like academic

The academic districts of campus, comprised of a diverse collection of trees and shrubs, lend themselves to supporting teaching, research, and student life activities.

The Prairie School patterning of “sun openings” is prevalent in the North Academic District. This concept consists of creating alternating areas of deep shade and sunlit lawns that are reminiscent of the indigenous savannah that once covered much of the northern Midwest. The trees and undulating lawns within the Circle Campus area were recognized by O.C. Simonds as “sacred space” (circa 1905) and remain so today.

The extensive roadway network and large building massing within the Central Academic District creates an intensive built aesthetic that requires substantial landscape interventions to mitigate for human comfort. Much of what a pedestrian perceives is strongly influenced by the adjacent roadways and architectural design. Therefore, a strong streetscape and front-yard landscape is essential to mitigate these elements and to properly transition the landscape scale from the roadway to the building entrances. Special focus should be on safety and providing a pleasant experience and sense of scale along pedestrian walkways.

The South Academic District is defined by large architectural structures that collectively do not provide a sense of place or a pleasant relationship with the pedestrian realm. This requires that the landscape mitigate for this poor composition; creating a comfortable pedestrian environment. The landscape needs to be strengthened to better unify the visual aesthetic and to provide places for social interaction, academic collaboration, and personal health/relaxation.

Park-like residential

Approximately 17,500 students call the University’s seven residential neighborhoods home. The landscape design for the neighborhoods must address a wide variety of issues including: scale transition, screening of service functions, providing room for informal recreation, and more intimate areas for relaxation and mental restoration. Transitioning the scale from large roadway spaces to more intimate building entrances is important in the front yards. Recreational amenities and areas for personal relaxation are appropriate in the back yards.

Park-like service

The Campus Land Use Master Plan strategizes consolidating support services south of the Canadian Northern railroad tracks. The landscape should reinforce this area as a vital part of the overall campus, while acknowledging its purpose and functionality.

Athletic and recreation

Intercollegiate athletics and intramural recreation activities require a landscape capable of handling large volumes of people, heavy foot traffic, and various activities that can stress the landscape (e.g., event parking on intramural fields). While the venues themselves require a very utilitarian design, this must be balanced with the fact that they are also gateways for thousands of visitors each year, and as such, must present a high quality aesthetic that properly represents the University along with mitigating for each venue’s architectural scale.

River corridor

The Red Cedar River is an iconic campus element that is a core attribute of the campus park. It is an active natural system that is constantly impacting the campus landscape. A large collection of ash trees inhabit the river corridor and with the ongoing destruction by the Emerald Ash Borer, most of these will not survive. The University needs to invest in the river corridor from a historic, cultural, aesthetic, and environmental perspective.

Signature landscapes

Signature landscapes are focal points throughout the campus. They vary in size and purpose; are associated with a heightened design aesthetic; utilize high-quality materials; are often associated with public art, fountains, or historic features; include irrigation; and, demand elevated maintenance standards and practices. They are important for encouraging community interaction and can be considered as eddies within the larger campus park wherein people can slow down and enjoy a more intimate sense of scale. Signature landscapes require either priority or elite maintenance levels.

Gardens and arboreta

These areas are delineated and overseen by a curator or established administrative group. They are actively designed, planted, and managed - not naturalized. A primary goal for the use of these areas is education and research with elite maintenance required to sustain the integrity of the plantings and collections.

Natural areas

The natural areas are designated by Board of Trustee action and are overseen by the Campus Natural Areas Committee. They are classified into three categories of protection and academic use based on their overall quality and their potential for sustained use. They serve as protected examples of Michigan’s native landscape and wildlife.

Conservation and demonstration

Conservation and demonstration areas are built landscapes for the purpose of storm water management, education, and research. They are actively designed, planted, and managed, requiring a moderate amount of maintenance to ensure integrity of the plantings and operation of the storm water management features.

Campus entrances

Campus Entrances (vehicular and pedestrian) provide an opportunity to strengthen the University’s image and reinforce its reputation for excellence. High quality landscape design and maintenance practices (elite and priority) are required. Consistent signage and a homogeneous landscape treatment are desirable for assisting visitor wayfinding and the efficient movement of goods and services.


The campus roadway system provides approximately 18 miles of opportunity to establish a quality image for the University. The streetscape (the landscape setting adjacent to the road) must address numerous design issues, including safety, image, environmental sustainability, and wayfinding all within what is often a harsh growing condition.

Motorized circulation framework

Near-term priorities

The following motorized projects and initiatives are anticipated in the near term (five- to ten-year planning horizon).

  • Develop a comprehensive mobility plan that addresses the movement of people to, from, and around campus.
  • Extend Wilson Road to Hagadorn Road with the goal of improving safety by reducing traffic within the East Residential District, relocating parking adjacent to Fee Hall, and providing a signalized intersection to aid pedestrians crossing Hagadorn Road.
  • Remove Parking Ramp #2 when engineering analysis directs and restore the river floodplain. Address parking replacement consistent with the mobility plan (under development) and planning principles guiding more parking on the campus periphery.

Longer-term opportunities

The following projects should be considered in long-range planning to address various motorized circulation issues.

  • Redesign the Farm Lane and Grand River intersection including a new traffic signal at East Circle Drive to improve operational efficiency and safety.
  • Reconstruct the section of Farm Lane between North and South Shaw Lane to provide appropriate vehicular turning movements and bike lanes.
  • Extend Bogue Street through the South Academic District as a two-lane roadway with center-turn lane as required.
  • Redesign the Bogue Street and Service Road intersection, removing the awkward transition from the boulevard cross section.
  • Extend East Crescent Road through the former Agriculture Exposition site.
  • Reconfigure Red Cedar Road to provide greater distance from the Kalamazoo and Beal Streets intersection.
  • Close the segment of North Shaw Lane between Red Cedar and Science Roads to private automobile traffic, change South Shaw Lane into a two-way street, and relocate surface parking.

Non-motorized circulation

Near-term proprities

The following non-motorized projects and initiatives are anticipated in the near term (five- to ten-year planning horizon).

  • Continue to design all roadways as complete streets in accordance with State of Michigan Public Acts 134 and 135 of 2010 wherein all roadways are to be planned and designed to meet the needs of all legal users.
  • Continue to meet the needs of persons with disabilities working through the Accessibility Committee that includes IPF, FPSM, RCPD, RHS, and athletics.
  • Continue bringing crosswalk pathway ramps up to ADA standards (e.g., maximum slopes, truncated domes).
  • Provide infrastructure to support a suite of transportation options that discourage single-occupancy vehicle trips to, from, and around campus (e.g., CATA Clean Commute and Zipcar car-sharing programs) in alignment with the mobility plan.
  • Fund and construct the final segments of the MSU River Trail.
  • Enhance and expand bicycle parking within the academic and residential districts with a goal to accommodate 30% of the resident population.

Long-term opportunities

The following projects should be considered in long-range planning to address various non-motorized circulation issues.

  • Study and implement site improvements at the southwest corner of Chestnut Road and Shaw Lane to curtail existing J-walking and to enhance pedestrian safety.
  • Convert dirt-worn paths to permanent walkways.
  • Continue working with the City of Lansing, City of East Lansing, and Meridian Township on interconnecting campus and municipal trail systems.
  • Construct an accessible route from Bessey Hall under the Farm Lane Bridge to Auditorium Field.
  • Continue working with the City of East Lansing on reconstructing the Bogue Street bridge over the river and incorporating the MSU River Trail along the river and east of Van Hoosen Hall.
  • Develop a system of sidewalk shared-use pathways along major bicycle travel routes not adjacent to roadways.
  • Establish a pedestrian and bicycle pathway along with the North Shaw Lane road closure between Red Cedar Road and Science Drive.
  • Consider protected bike lanes where enhanced safety is required.