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Avista, McKinstry to help EWU pay rent in Spokane

The Catalyst building is scheduled to open in 2020 in Spokane’s University District. (Courtesy of Avista)
The Catalyst building is scheduled to open in 2020 in Spokane’s University District. (Courtesy of Avista)

Eastern Washington University will get a little help paying the rent when it moves students and programs into a brand-new building in Spokane’s University District. A lot of help, actually.

The developers behind the four-story, 150,000-square-foot Catalyst building have agreed to give the university $5 million over the first 10 years of its lease, offsetting most of the cost of rent. The money will come from Avista Development – a subsidiary of Avista Corp. that functions independently of the utility – and another company Avista has formed with Seattle-based engineering firm McKinstry.

EWU plans to move three degree programs, up to 50 faculty members and around 1,000 students to the Catalyst building, which is scheduled to open in 2020 at the south landing of the U-District pedestrian-bicycle bridge. The university plans to lease about 57,000 square feet. The developers also have agreed to develop five internships and donate $50,000 annually for faculty and student research.

“As we talked about this opportunity to expand our footprint in Spokane, and bring our students and faculty together with employers and entrepreneurs, we also had to talk about the costs of that move,” EWU President Mary Cullinan said Wednesday. “This (gift) will be a tremendous help and really makes this whole move possible. It’s the largest single gift in our university history, which is very exciting.”

The contribution also “highlights our mutual commitment” to higher education and to the Spokane community, Cullinan said.

Ed Schlect, the president of Avista Development, said it’s “not uncommon” for developers to offer gifts of temporary “rent abatement” to attract major tenants. The company is planning other developments in the same area along East Sprague Avenue, and the presence of EWU’s science, technology, engineering and math programs will be a draw for other institutions and employers, he said. Hence the name “Catalyst.”

“For us, what’s most important is that we get a good, strong academic institution to be part of the process,” Schlect said. “We think it’s a great opportunity to blend industry and academia, and this building is just set up for that. We needed somebody that had both the quality programs and the interest to do it.”

Katerra, a California-based wood products company that recently opened a factory in Spokane Valley, also plans to rent some space in the Catalyst building.

As for other potential tenants, Schlect said there has been “great interest,” but EWU is “the only one we’re ready to share at this point.”

Cullinan said the university wouldn’t be able to move to the Catalyst building without the help from Avista and McKinstry, but she predicted that growth in degree programs will enable the school to pick up the full cost of rent after a decade.

“We’re working on both short- and long-term budget plans,” she said. “A lot of the ideas that our provost and our STEM dean have are actually going to create revenue for us. We’re working on multiple ways of making this work, financially as well as academically.”


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