June 12, 2012 in City, News, Region

Nonprofit delays demolition

Appeal stalls plans for Jensen-Byrd building
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A Texas company cannot move forward with plans to demolish the 103-year-old Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane until after a public hearing next month.

Austin-based Campus Advantage Inc. is buying the six-floor former warehouse from Washington State University and plans to tear it down. The company plans to build student housing on the spot.

Even before Campus Advantage got the demolition permit last week, Spokane Preservation Advocates, a nonprofit group, filed an appeal that prevents the company from moving forward.

The appeal argues that Spokane city officials wrongly concluded this spring that tearing down the building has no significant impact on historic resources the city and WSU have said they’re committed to protecting, attorney David Bricklin said.

Bricklin represents Spokane Preservation Advocates. The group contends WSU has better options instead of allowing Campus Advantage to tear down the building.

The hearing has not been scheduled. Only parties who have direct standing in the process can testify before city Hearings Examiner Greg Smith.

Bricklin said even if the examiner rules against the appeal, the preservation group will look at other legal options. He said he doubts demolition will occur sooner than next year.

In December WSU said it would sell the building for $2.85 million. The deal has not yet closed.

WSU officials said they haven’t been able to find developers willing to renovate the building and that they need to provide more affordable student housing in the area.

Opponents of razing the building say it’s a key part of the area’s commercial history. The building is not listed on state or federal historic registers, but the Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission has said it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Matt Cohen, past president of Spokane Preservation Advocates and a WSU architecture professor, said the group contends that preserving older buildings such as the Jensen-Byrd enhance economic development, not hamper it.

Campus Advantage concluded too quickly that the building’s low ceilings make renovation too expensive, he added. It would be a worthwhile challenge for Campus Advantage to renovate while using the existing ceilings and supports, Cohen said.

Spokane developer Ron Wells, who failed to convince WSU in 2008 to sell him the Jensen-Byrd, said he’s continuing efforts to develop another renovation plan for the building. He has been hampered, however, by what he sees as WSU resistance to his proposal. Wells said he asked the school to let him bring a construction team into the building one more time.

“They said we would not be able to enter the building,” he said.


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