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Sandpoint UI branch campus on hold

Tue., Oct. 23, 2007

A financial setback for a philanthropic organization run by Coldwater Creek co-founder Dennis Pence has indefinitely shelved plans for a University of Idaho campus in Sandpoint.

The Wild Rose Foundation was expected to spend at least $36 million to build the campus on a 77-acre site owned by UI. Officials hoped classes could be offered as soon as fall 2009, but the foundation announced Monday the project was on hold.

“As a large percentage of the assets of the Foundation reside in equities, and the value of the portfolio has declined substantially over the last six months, Wild Rose has requested to the University of Idaho that the planned development be delayed until such time as the condition of the investment portfolio of the Foundation improves,” Pence said in a statement.

Stock in Coldwater Creek makes up a “substantial portion” of the Wild Rose Foundation’s portfolio, said Ford Elsaesser, a Sandpoint attorney serving as the foundation’s spokesman.

The value of the Coldwater Creek’s stock has tumbled 70 percent in the past 12 months. On Friday, the stock closed at $7.82 per share, and financial Web site The Motley Fool listed Coldwater Creek among the worst performers of the day.

The company, which sells women’s apparel and accessories, announced last week that it would post a third-quarter loss. The news came amid sluggish clothing sales.

Sandpoint Mayor Ray Miller said the indefinite delay of the UI campus is disappointing but understandable given the state of the stock market. He’s confident the project will eventually move forward.

“I talked to Mr. Pence today and he’s fairly optimistic it won’t be too long,” Miller said. “We’re still behind the project all the way.”

Coeur d’Alene resident Sue Thilo, a member of the state Board of Education, said the board looks forward to one day seeing the project to fruition.

“All parties want it to happen,” Thilo said. “The timing just needs to change.”

In August, Thilo and the rest of the board voted to sell 77 acres owned by the UI just north of downtown Sandpoint to the Wild Rose Foundation for $6.25 million. Most of that money would have gone into a trust for educational programs at the site, and the foundation agreed to spend at least $30 million to build the first four buildings, which were to be given to the UI, according to the agreement.

Classes were tentatively scheduled to start in fall 2009. A variety of offerings would have been available, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary programs focusing on the liberal arts, natural resources and food science. Other programs would have included the UI’s executive MBA program, already available in Sandpoint, as well as offerings from North Idaho College.

The decision isn’t unexpected given the state of the stock market, Miller and Thilo agreed.

“I think everyone’s that looking at the stock market is taking a second look at major decisions such as this. We want this project to be fiscally sound,” Thilo said.

The delay has no affect on the MBA program or other existing UI programs in Sandpoint.

In his statement, Pence said that he will continue “unqualified support” for the campus. He called the delay “personally disappointing” and praised UI for its support of the project.

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