The University of Washington wants to stake a claim in the heart of Cougar country.
And it is asking the city of Spokane to help.
UW is eyeing the former Spokane Visitor Information Center at Main Avenue and Browne Street, a piece of property that is owned by the city and sits next door to the city’s hottest urban enclave. It is also on the outer edge of the University District.
UW is proposing to lease the building for a multipurpose office and meeting space and to give the university visibility in Spokane.
City officials said they favor the UW proposal, which is one of three competing proposals, because of the university’s strong “brand recognition.”
Norm Arkans, UW associate vice president for media relations and communications, said the office would serve several functions, including business outreach, alumni activity and student admissions.
“This is part of our commitment to be in Spokane,” he said.
The office also would support UW’s proposed expansion of its existing medical school program in Spokane, he said.
That program had been operated in partnership with Washington State University until WSU announced earlier this month that it intends to break away and start its own medical program independent of UW.
Those developments came about the same time the city received three formal lease proposals for the former visitor center, which closed in November.
The proposal submitted by UW was ranked highest by an evaluation committee, in large measure because of its brand, and is being recommended to the City Council for approval, officials said.
A vote could come as early as Nov. 3.
Also submitting proposals were Horizon Credit Union, which wants to convert the building to a branch office with drive-thru service, and local restaurant owner Jeremy Tangen, who owns Fast Eddies in downtown Spokane and two other local restaurants with bars. He proposed opening another at the site.
UW proposed the highest lease amount at $5,200 a month. Horizon offered $4,569; Tangen, $2,250.
Horizon lost points in the evaluation because its proposed drive-thru would add vehicle trips to the area rather than pedestrian trips, said Dave Steele, economic development specialist for the city.
The UW in its proposal pointed out that the lease would put the state’s largest university within the official boundaries of Spokane’s University District.
“We expect that it will serve as a hub of activity, providing a resource for potential students and their parents, for alumni and other stakeholders, for visitors and anyone else who wishes to interface with the University of Washington,” the UW proposal said.
Just up Main Avenue to the east is one of downtown’s more attractive urban areas with its redeveloped housing, restaurants, bars, shops, a natural foods cooperative, art theater and offices for nonprofit community organizations.
With the nearby expansion of the Spokane Convention Center and construction of Walt and Karen Worthy’s Grand Hotel Spokane, the east end of downtown is likely to see increasing property values in coming years, Steele said.
City officials eventually want to sell the property, but they decided on a five-year lease arrangement to give time for the real estate market to reflect anticipated run-up in values. The lease would be for an initial three-year period, with an option for two additional years.
UW submitted its proposal Oct. 2, prior to WSU’s announcement of a break in the medical school partnership with UW.
The 2,600-square-foot Visitor Information Center opened in 1995 at a cost of $247,000. The Spokane Convention and Visitors Bureau financed the building on city property, but the city retained ownership when the center closed as part of the 1995 arrangement.
The center did not meet expectations for drop-in visits. Visitor services have been shifted to kiosks at River Park Square and Spokane Valley malls; a space at Spokane International Airport; and a mobile visitor vehicle.
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