The vision is in place at Eastern Washington University for a multimillion-dollar “city within a city” that aims to improve the campus experience on game day – and every day.
The Gateway Project, unveiled recently to the EWU Board of Trustees, would include 8,000 additional seats on the Washington Street side of Roos Field. Inside, the facility would house concessions, leased commercial space, suites and more.
Now comes the hard part, said Mike Westfall, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the EWU Foundation, which made the presentation to the trustees.
“Right now we are trying to temper expectations as much as possible, so we are strictly in a feasibility phase right now,” Westfall said. “But everyone we have heard from has reacted favorably.”
The biggest hurdle, Westfall acknowledges, is the $20-million-plus price tag, though not all of it must be raised before the concrete is poured. Donor dollars and private support would get the project off the ground, and the rest would come from revenue generated by the facility.
Westfall said no potential donors have been approached, but added that “we wouldn’t undertake this if we didn’t feel there was an appetite for this from our supporters.”
Westfall compares the project with the red turf installed on the football field: Donors had to be identified first.
Because it would be a private-public partnership, the project must be approved by both the trustees and the EWU Foundation board. That will take several months.
In his dual role with Eastern and the EWU Foundation, Westfall’s job is “to facilitate communication and make sure that we adhere to both sets of governance requirements. Ultimately, it’s up to both boards to decide whether this is feasible, so it could be a three-year or 10-year process or not even get off the ground.”
“That’s why we’re doing the feasibility study,” Westfall said. “The first step is the visioning: If we can do something of this magnitude and how would it serve the mission of the university.”
The feasibility study would identify revenue streams and measure costs. Next would come initial design documents. An artist’s rendering that was presented to the trustees is just one possibility, Westfall emphasizes.
“Every time you’re trying to paint a picture, some things can get lost in translation, so the power is in showing what this could be,” Westfall said.
Among other things, it could be a “unifying structure” on campus, said Westfall, noting that Washington Street has traditionally divided the academic and athletic areas. “This whole concept flips this on its head a little bit and becomes a unifier.”
Placing the bookstore and other concessions within the Gateway Project would help do that, though traffic patterns on Washington Street would not change, except on game days when traffic would be rerouted behind the stadium.
Meanwhile, the EWU athletic department is looking at installing a new scoreboard. That is a separate issue, Westfall said.
Conscious of the obstacles, Westfall is hopeful: “There’s no harm in dreaming. Now it’s time to sharpen our pencils a little bit and ask, ‘What are the steps we need to undertake to make this a reality?’”