Washington State University Spokane’s chancellor says the school is now committed to preserving the Jensen-Byrd building and will seek proposals from developers this summer on how best to use the century-old building.
Until last year, WSU Spokane officials were ready to sell the empty, 104-year-old former warehouse to a Texas company. That company, Campus Advantage, planned to tear it down and replace it with modern student housing.
Historic preservation groups, including Spokane Preservation Advocates, said that plan disregarded historic-preservation guidelines in the University District master plan.
They also said the building would generate more economic activity if restored rather than demolished.
After concerted opposition mounted against demolition, Campus Advantage gave up the plan last August.
WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown said the goal now is to turn the former commercial structure into a “gateway” building at the west edge of the Riverpoint Campus and University District. That district is the cluster of higher-education buildings and businesses east of downtown, including buildings used by Eastern Washington University and WSU Spokane.
Brown became chancellor of the university’s Spokane campus at the beginning of the year. She said in an interview Thursday that any future plans for the Jensen-Byrd will not include student housing. Users of the Riverpoint campus have a range of housing options in nearby neighborhoods, including Logan, East Central and South Perry, she said.
She hoped to send out requests for proposals this summer, inviting concepts and ideas for the building’s next use.
Brown said one likely use would be to assign some student activity to the building. She didn’t list specific ideas but said she wanted any plans to also involve students and staff from EWU.
While the Jensen-Byrd is not on any historic register, area preservationists consider it a building of interest. Spokane Preservation Advocates lists it among the area’s 10 most significant historic structures.
WSU bought the building in 2004 and left it vacant. During the next six years the school tried and failed to find developers ready to convert it into commercial or residential units.
Paul Mann, president of SPA, said he and others from the group came away “very positive” about Brown’s plans after meeting with her recently.
That meeting was initiated by Brown and was a chance for her to get the advocacy group’s views on how best to preserve and enhance the building, he said.
Brown also said Thursday that she’s backing planning for a new bike-pedestrian bridge that would cross the railroad tracks and Interstate 90, connecting the campus with the East Central neighborhood.
Another step to reduce the need for student housing in the University District, Brown added, is WSU Spokane’s decision to hand out Spokane Transit Authority bus passes to all students, staff and faculty.
That will complement the decision not to consider the Jensen-Byrd building for housing, Brown said.
Providing the bus passes follows the same practice adopted by EWU several years ago. The cost is included in the university’s student fees.