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Empire Health Foundation buys Civic Building

Fri., Aug. 2, 2013

Empire Health plans to turn property into philanthropy center

Spokane’s largest health care foundation became a downtown property owner this week, paying $775,000 for the historic Civic Building at 1020 W. Riverside.

The Empire Health Foundation will remodel the interior of the three-floor building with the intention of turning it into a philanthropy center, said Antony Chiang, foundation president.

Money for the purchase will come from the foundation’s $50 million endowment, which is primarily invested in stocks, bonds and government notes.

The interest earned on that endowment – so far about $2 million each year – is awarded to organizations and invested in efforts designed to improve the health of people in Eastern Washington, including fighting obesity and working to provide the best care for the mentally ill.

Chiang said purchasing the building – built in 1931 and occupied for many years by the Spokane Chamber of Commerce – will not affect grantmaking.

He acknowledged, though, that there was some risk.

“Time will tell if this was a good investment,” Chiang said. “We recognize that this is a stretch for us as an organization.”

The price tag for the building, including remodeling and other costs, amounts to $2 million.

He described it as a double-win: The foundation diversifies its endowment portfolio with commercial property while meeting a foundation mission of aiding other charitable groups with office and meeting space.

The 19,960-square-foot building was acquired from the Spokane Club, which for two years had marketed the property squeezed between its regal brick building and the Masonic Center.

Spokane Club CEO Charles Alpers said he was pleased with the transaction, which brought in less than the $895,000 asking price.

The health foundation will move its eight staffers onto one floor. Chiang said he is searching for another grantmaker to share that floor.

Another floor will be remodeled into meeting space for other nonprofit groups.

A third floor will be designed as an incubator for health-related nonprofit groups, Chiang said. The first tenant will be a subsidiary of the foundation called Better Health Together.

The subsidiary was created to help enroll Eastern Washington residents into health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. Empire Health Foundation won a $858,000 federal grant this summer for that purpose.

The foundation was created in 2008 by the sale of two nonprofit hospitals – Deaconess Medical Center and Valley Hospital – to Fortune 500 company Community Health Systems Inc.

Proceeds from the sale were directed into the new charitable foundation.

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