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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Jensen-Byrd eligible for historic preservation

Campus Advantage plans to replace it with newer building

The Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane is eligible to be nominated for the Spokane Register of Historic Places. It has been vacant since 2004. (FILE)
The Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane is eligible to be nominated for the Spokane Register of Historic Places. It has been vacant since 2004. (FILE)

The company buying the 102-year-old Jensen-Byrd building in downtown Spokane told the city-county Historic Landmarks Commission it still intends to tear it down to make way for new student housing.

But the landmarks commission, which sets local historic preservation guidelines, placed one procedural hurdle in the way of quick demolition by voting that the Jensen-Byrd building is eligible for historic preservation.

Campus Advantage, a Texas company that develops and operates for-profit student housing, announced plans in December to buy the six-floor former warehouse from Washington State University.

It agreed to pay $2.85 million to WSU, but it also said it found that the building’s age and interior features make it difficult to be profitable unless it’s replaced with a newer structure.

Area historic preservationists, about 20 of whom attended Wednesday’s meeting, contend Campus Advantage and WSU are selling out an important piece of Spokane’s commercial history and that renovation makes more sense. Many spoke during the meeting, expressing opposition to demolition.

The commission’s decision Wednesday designates the Jensen-Byrd building, which has been vacant since 2004, as eligible to be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

That decision now requires Campus Advantage to meet one of the four conditions in the city’s ordinance that will allow the building’s demolition, said Kristen Griffin, the city-county historic preservation officer.

Before a demolition permit is approved, Campus Advantage has to establish that the building is a risk to public safety, or that keeping it as-is poses an economic hardship for the owner, or that the land is needed for parking for another historic preservation project, or that the owner will replace the historic building with another of similar size and square footage.

Ronnie Macejewski, a vice president with Campus Advantage, spoke briefly during the meeting, affirming plans that the Texas company will use the fourth option, replacing the building with a new apartment structure. WSU has said it needs more units for students in the University District where its Spokane campus is. WSU also said two previous development projects for the Jensen-Byrd site failed to gain traction.

Campus Advantage has a contract with WSU to buy the building, but that deal has contingencies that could cancel the sale, according to brokers with NAI Black who have worked on the sale.

Macejewski said he couldn’t comment on whether the restrictions on obtaining a demolition permit would jeopardize the sale.

If Campus Advantage moves ahead and applies for a permit, the decision to grant or deny it falls to the Spokane Building Department.

Once that process of determining if demolition will happen, citizens will have a chance to file written support or opposition, Griffin said.

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