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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

WSU to make Jensen-Byrd building a gathering place

Four years after pushing to demolish a century-old warehouse on its growing Spokane campus, Washington State University has decided the historic structure should be preserved as a centerpiece.

The university now envisions the six-story Jensen-Byrd building as the focal point of a new plaza and gathering place that also will serve as a downtown gateway to the Spokane campus. No budget or specific timeframe has been established, but the decision is part of WSU’s new master plan, which the university’s regents approved last month.

“We want to create a new front door to the campus and make a connection to the downtown and the city,” said Rusty Pritchard, senior project manager at WSU Spokane.

The decision marks a major victory for the region’s preservation enthusiasts, who had challenged the legality of the demolition permit issued in 2011 by Spokane City Hall and then worked with WSU officials to identify alternative options.

“It’s a significant decision,” said Matt Cohen, a WSU architecture professor and former president of Spokane Preservation Advocates. “To the university’s credit, they were willing to listen.”

Some of the surrounding structures on the parcel, however, still would be torn down under the conceptual plan. Located at the northeast corner of Main Avenue and Pine Street, the iconic brick building is expected to anchor a gathering area featuring meeting rooms, retail outlets and other amenities at the western edge of the campus.

WSU bought the building in 2001, and officials had gone back and forth over whether to refurbish it or tear it down, which drew the concern of local history and preservation enthusiasts.

The closest the university came to demolition was in 2011, when WSU had tentatively agreed to sell it to a Texas company that wanted to build a new mixed-use facility containing apartments and retail space. Spokane Preservation Advocates challenged the legality of the demolition permit, and the company pulled out of the deal in 2012.

“I don’t think people realize how close we were to the Jensen-Byrd being gone,” Cohen said.

Credit for saving the Jensen-Byrd, he said, should go to the university’s willingness to meet with and listen to preservation enthusiasts as well as to the city’s demolition ordinance, which enabled the legal challenge to be filed and led to the discussions that followed.

“That’s a perfect use for that building,” he said of WSU’s new plans. “It’s right at the linchpin of the campus and the downtown.”

WSU wants the boundaries of its Spokane campus, located within the city’s growing University District, to merge and blend into downtown. Preserving the Jensen-Byrd building establishes that, Cohen said.

“So much of Spokane’s character is tied up in its historic cultural resources,” he said, noting that modern architectural principles include finding ways to preserve those resources. “Historic preservation fuels an economic engine when it’s used properly.”

WSU now must figure out how to proceed.

The estimated cost of refurbishing the building is $55.5 million to $61.3 million, documents show, though WSU wants to explore public-private partnership options rather than seeking state allocations for the project.

Ideas for the building include conference and gathering rooms, food and retail services, a fitness center and other amenities.

The building sits on a 17-acre section of the campus where WSU also intends to build a 400- to 500-vehicle parking structure.

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