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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU blocks Jensen-Byrd destruction

Demolishing the historic Jensen-Byrd Building is off-limits for new proposals on how to redevelop 3.5 acres of Washington State University’s Riverpoint Campus.

The prohibition marks a victory for historic preservation advocates who have urged renovation of the six-story brick warehouse, located between Spokane Falls Boulevard and East Main Avenue near Pine Street. A 2006 consultant’s report concluded the building would not be profitable to refurbish.

WSU’s new request for mixed-use development on four parcels, including the Jensen-Byrd, specifies developers must retain the building.

“We understand that there’s a real value in those existing buildings, and we want to do all we can to provide an opportunity for people to come up and try to make it a financially feasible process,” said Ryan Ruffcorn, a project manager for WSU.

Vern Arneson, president of nonprofit Spokane Preservation Advocates, said refurbishing the vacant warehouse, built in 1909, makes economic and ecological sense.

“The historic character of the building should be considered an asset rather than a liability, much like Pioneer Square or Pike (Place) Market are assets to the city of Seattle,” he said. “The greenest building is one that already exists.”

While designated by WSU for future campus buildings, developers may apply for a ground lease to use one or more of the four parcels for 70 to 80 years.

The east end of downtown has seen a flurry of renovation projects and proposals. WSU’s 88,000-square-foot nursing building, expected to be completed this fall, is just across the street. A block west of the WSU tract, the historic Globe Building and former muffler shop both are for sale.

A previous request for proposals in fall 2005 on a single tract of 4.9 acres garnered several responses. But on-again-off-again negotiations with the team WSU selected, a partnership between NAC Architecture and R.B. Goebel General Contractor Inc., ended in January 2008. WSU and the companies couldn’t agree to terms, despite a “fairly good negotiation process,” Ruffcorn said.

“We were trying to put together basically office buildings with a certain synergy of tenants, but we were never able to gain the synergy that we wanted that would justify the development,” said Terry Goebel, co-owner of R.B. Goebel.

The firms will reapply, and their proposal could include the Jensen-Byrd, Goebel said. They have a “unique and interesting” concept for it, he said, declining to elaborate for competitive reasons.

Other possible uses include an arts incubator and independent retailers and restaurants, things “clamored for” by people who work in and visit the area, said Melissa Wittstruck-Eadie, a city planner.

The university won’t consider condominiums in the Jensen-Byrd; instead, it’s encouraging developers to make “functional linkages to existing and planned activities in the immediate neighborhood,” incorporate sustainable design and provide “health, research, student and academic-related uses.”

Proposals must indicate how developers would plan, finance and operate projects in line with master plans for the campus and the city’s University District.

The university responded to initial complaints about potentially demolishing the Jensen-Byrd with a study by Portland-based SERA Architects, which concluded redeveloping the building into office, retail, condos or apartments would result in a loss of at least $3.5 million.

The new request states the building might qualify for tax incentives, and assumes several smaller warehouse and storage buildings on the parcels would be bulldozed.

The proposal points out city plans to extend Riverside Avenue around the property.

Construction on that project could start late next year, said Dave Mandyke, city director of Public Works and Utilities.

Proposals are due April 17, and the university hopes to negotiate a development option by Aug. 15.

If the process doesn’t yield results, however, WSU might re-evaluate whether to keep the Jensen-Byrd, Ruffcorn said.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Arneson said. “We think the building still could be at risk.”

About 15 parties already have expressed interest, Ruffcorn said.

“It’s only been about a day and a half, but my phone’s been ringing off the hook since then,” he said.

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