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Building can’t be fixed at profit, report says

A report commissioned by Washington State University concludes that renovating the historic Jensen-Byrd Building on the east end of downtown Spokane would not be profitable.

The six-story, 172,000-square-foot building was built in 1909 and is the centerpiece of a five-acre property WSU would like to lease for redevelopment. When WSU announced plans to lease the land, with the possibility the building could be demolished, historic preservation advocates protested. The university responded by commissioning the study on the economic feasibility of restoring the building.

The report by SERA Architects of Portland found that current market conditions are not favorable for profitable redevelopment of the building, and that the structure has features that rule out some types of reuse. Those features include low ceiling heights and tight column spacing.

However, WSU officials urged people not to jump to the conclusion that the report means the building will immediately be torn down. WSU will schedule a public meeting in October to discuss the report’s conclusions.

“There is nothing imminent happening to the building,” said Barb Chamberlain, a WSU spokeswoman. In fact, the building recently was leased back to Jensen Distribution for storage on a short-term basis, she said.

However, the report was met with dismay by members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates, who have promoted the renovation and rehabilitation of the massive warehouse structure southeast of Pine Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard.

“I’ve been in the building. It seems very structurally sound. It is eligible for the historic register and eligible for receiving local tax credits,” said Dave Shockley, SPA president and a licensed architect. “It seems difficult to believe that it is not economically feasible to make this thing work.”

However, for the four potential uses evaluated – office, retail, condominiums and apartments – development costs far outdistanced the potential profit from the building, the report found. The smallest loss identified by the analysis was about $3.5 million, if the structure were redeveloped for apartments, using low-income housing tax credits and historic tax credits.

“The concepts vary considerably in their feasibility although under current assumptions, none achieves a value equal to its development cost,” the report says. The report also notes the “sluggish” office and retail markets.Though no commitments have been made, WSU continues to negotiate with Riverpoint Plaza LLC, the company it selected to redevelop the land. That company is a partnership between Northwest Architectural Co. and R.B. Goebel General Contractor Inc.”The report will determine what direction we go with reference to Jensen-Byrd because (it) is in the center of the development,” said Terry Goebel, co-owner of Goebel. But he said, “It’s not solely up to us. WSU still owns it.”