East Campus development questions answered, timeline provided



Mike Westfall, the vice president of University Advancement, sat down with The Oakland Post to assist in providing transparency for the potential East Campus development by answering questions and establishing a timeline.

Mike Westfall, the vice president of University Advancement, sat down with The Oakland Post to provide transparency for potential East Campus development by answering questions and establishing a timeline.

If all goes according to plan, Westfall said, a proposal will be presented to the university’s board of trustees in February 2023.

An exploration was launched in 2018-2019 to study potential ways to use the space known as East Campus — specifically the corner bordered by Adams Road and Walton Boulevard.

Westfall then took over, and a study was completed in early 2021 to see what the market said was the best use for the space.

An East Campus project discussion group was formed in March and April, 2022, which led to the stakeholder group whose goal is to provide feedback and assist in the process.

Other groups involved include the OU Work Group, Board of Trustees (BOT) Work Group and several campus community groups such as the Campus Alliance for Sustainability and the Environment (CASE), Campus Development Environmental Committee and the University Senate steering committee.

The study found the market for multi-family housing and the market for hotels and hospitality to be strong. The study also highlighted a market for an indoor performing arts center.

With this analysis, Westfall said the university wants to ensure if something does get built on East Campus, it ties into Oakland University’s values.

“From a mission standpoint, it needs to tie in directly or indirectly into the mission — which is tough,” Westfall said. “From a culture standpoint, whatever is done there needs to draw the campus to the corner, and it needs to draw the community to the corner. There are a lot of cool things on that side of campus, and it needs to compliment those things and bring people in together.”

Westfall also said preservation and sustainability are components that potential developers must consider. Every potential developer has been told to protect the wooded areas — such as the space used by TreeRunner — and they have each pledged their commitment to do so.

Sustainability has been a large concern for many students, faculty and alumni surrounding this development. Westfall said sustainability strategies are critical. Recently, President Ora Pescovitz and others held a Sustainability Awareness Rally on campus which welcomed protestors who pushed for sustainability to be a large part of whatever comes of East Campus.

“I appreciate the passion — I’m all for sustainability,” Westfall said. “I’ve done sustainability work in the past.”

Westfall is planning to meet with Oakland University’s Student Congress (OUSC) in October to discuss the current timeline of the project and how the conversations with developers have gone thus far. He will meet again with OUSC in November to obtain feedback on the project and provide another round of updates.

The Request for Qualifications submissions were due on Aug. 15, with OU subsequently reviewing those interested in the process and making sure they were qualified. This process brought it down to five developers who must submit a Request for Proposal  by Nov. 23.

Finalists will be selected in December, and January will be used solely for obtaining feedback from all groups through an open house — which will seek community feedback, as well. The potential final step will be in February when everything is presented to the BOT.

The project must be able to support the university financially, but it has to be a large enough amount to make sense for the university to even go forward with the plan, Westfall said.

“It will generate revenue that can be used to support the university in other areas. How much that is and what that money would support, I don’t know,” Westfall said. “That’s the point of going through the proposals, because if it doesn’t pencil out and if what the university has to give up is too much, then it’s not worth it — but at least we’ll have run it out.”

Questions regarding whether now is a good time to look into developing East Campus — due to the university’s declining enrollment and budget — are commonly asked. Westfall said those are reasons why the university wishes to explore these revenue ideas.

“We have to be creative in exploring additional revenue opportunities, but it has to fit in and address all those other areas,” he said. “If we wanted to just sell it to the highest bidder, there would be a Costco there — but that’s not what we want to do. We want to create revenue that’s reasonable, and reasonable means that it has to check a lot of boxes. If it doesn’t, then it’s not worth doing.”

Westfall has said he wants to make sure the students are involved in the process from a feedback standpoint, and also down the road to potentially have engineering students and design students part of the execution process.

As more information becomes available and updates happen, Westfall said he wants to be as transparent as possible.