After helping achieve a list of accomplishments that has revitalized Spokane’s University District, district development association CEO Lars Gilberts will leave at the end of June for a new position with Numerica Credit Union.
A native of Clayton, Washington, Gilberts said he wasn’t looking for the opportunity, but an associate made him aware of the job and he jumped at it. He will become assistant vice president for community development and impact at Numerica.
“The University District very much was in my wheelhouse and my passion,” Gilberts said. “But one of my passions is working with the underbanked-minority population. This work is very personal and very meaningful for me. I’m excited.”
Gilberts said he spent his first two years in Florida doing volunteer work helping with small business development. The past three years there he served as the statewide director of United Way’s ALICE program, which helps underserved populations build financial stability.
Now he wants to do the same thing in Spokane.
“I love that Numerica has a goal of enhancing lives,” he said. “That’s hardwired into me. I care about communities. I want families to be healthy and resilient.”
Gilberts’ tenure coincided with a list of successful ventures in the U-District, including the University District Gateway Bridge that connects Gonzaga University and a blossoming higher ed corridor to planned development near East Sprague.
The district became the focus of more than $1 billion in public and private investments, which includes an upgrade to East Sprague Avenue and more than a dozen new industrial buildings and completion of the Catalyst Building, a joint project of Avista Corp. and McKinstry.
Tom Simpson, Ignite Northwest CEO and managing director of Kick Start, said Gilberts worked closely on several projects with Ignite, which invests in growing companies in the Spokane region and provides access to other sources of capital.
“He was a great partner,” Simpson said. “From my perspective, he’s going to be sorely missed.”
The University of Washington forged a regional health partnership with Gonzaga University in 2016 to expand medical education and research, and Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine opened in 2017 in the U-District
Those partnerships attracted more first-year medical students to Spokane than that of Seattle’s University District.
Coming soon will be a planned $60 million McKinstry building at 840 E. Spokane Falls Blvd. that will be the new home for the University of Washington School of Medicine-Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership.
Simpson said those additions are huge when it comes to attracting entrepreneurs.
“Having a strong university presence is very important for a city or a region to be truly an entrepreneurial hub,” he said. “We have that now.”
Gilberts said he’s proud to say that much of that development would not have happened but for the work of the University District Development Association.
While he acknowledged that a lot of the work at the U-District was underway before he arrived in 2017, Gilberts said he was very proud to advocate for re-investing in the East Sprague area that had been overlooked for decades.
“If you look at our relationships, I left fingerprints on how we are seen as a partner,” he said.
The search for his replacement has already begun, Gilberts said.
“We should be posting the job shortly,” he said. “Several people have expressed interest. They need someone who has a different or additional skill set that will hopefully get the U-District to a new level.”
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