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Brewster hopes to build more dorms

A 116-bed residence hall with retail shops on the ground floor in the middle of downtown Lewiston, Idaho, is scheduled to be ready for Lewis-Clark State College students to move in this fall.

The 137-bed Brewster Hall in downtown Cheney has been full of Eastern Washington University students since it opened in September of 2002. It is Eastern’s most-requested student residence hall.

Now developer Rob Brewster has hopes of building another student housing project at Eastern and, longer term, near Gonzaga University. In an expansion of his company, ConoverBond Development, Brewster has launched CollegeTown Development, with a goal of building student residence halls near colleges and universities in Washington, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta.

“What we are trying to do is integrate students more with the communities that they’re living in,” Brewster said. “It gives students a sense of individuality but also keeps them tied to the great university community.”

In addition to an almost-certain revenue stream for Brewster, the student housing projects also appear to be beneficial to colleges, which don’t have to assume the financial risk of construction; to students, who have a quality place to live; and to the cities, where downtown businesses frequently see increased traffic.

Since construction began on Brewster’s new $5 million residence hall in downtown Lewiston, a new convenience store has opened and plans have been hatched for an Internet café, said Laura Von Tersch, the city’s community development director. The upper floors of buildings in downtown Lewiston already were being converted into residential housing, two to six units at a time, she said. Brewster’s project, however, will add 116 new residents to the downtown core, all at once.

“This is a big slug in the arm,” Von Tersch said. “We were very happy to hear they were coming to town.”

The arrangement also helps LCSC satisfy a goal of the Idaho State Board of Education, said Ron Smith, LCSC’s vice president of administrative services. The state board wants colleges and universities to work with private developers in order to provide student housing without taking any financial risks, Smith said.

And the project meets a growing demand at LCSC. Currently, 59 students are staying in a hotel while waiting for rooms in the school’s two dorms. An inability to keep up with demand for student housing has kept the school from growing as fast as it would like, Smith said. The college also is exploring the possibility of working with Brewster’s company to renovate the old dormitories, Smith said. Students would shift to the new hall while the old ones were renovated, he said.

Eastern currently has no plans to move forward with an additional residence hall project, due to the onslaught of apartment building construction that has taken place in Cheney, said Rick Romero, Eastern’s associate vice president for business services. In the past two years, hundreds of new apartment units have been built, he said.

“There’s a reasonable balance there and we want to makes sure we stay within that balance,” Romero said. “It took the private sector a while to respond to the university’s growth.”

Brewster, however, said he’d like to move forward on a second project, within the next two years, with or without the university’s participation.

The residence halls Brewster builds include furnished two- to five-room suites that share bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens and dining areas. The buildings include lounges, atriums with gas fireplaces, high-speed Internet and cable television. In addition, the ground floor is leased to retail shops, which, at Eastern, include a coffee shop and bookstore.

“College campuses have been instructed not to spend money on residence halls,” Brewster said. “We’re here to pick up some of that slack.”

Eastern leases Dorothy Brewster Hall (named for Brewster’s grandmother), for $430,825 annually, on a 20-year lease which includes the retail space for the ground-floor bookstore, Romero said. At LCSC, students will pay $375 per room, per month, Smith said. At full occupancy, that would equate to more than $500,000 in revenue per year for ConoverBond.

Brewster’s company also purchased land near Gonzaga in November, with hopes of building a residence hall project there one day, though he has no immediate plans. The acre and a half of land is on the southwest corner of Spokane Falls Boulevard (formerly Trent Avenue) and Hamilton Street and is currently home to Habitat for Humanity’s builder surplus store. Spokane County property records show Brewster bought the land for $1.75 million.

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