Monday, September 10, 2007



The downtown Spokane Riverpoint campus, also known as the U-District, continues to grow and is poised to be a major economic driver in the years to come. The campus is shared by EWU and WSU, with the community colleges and nearby Gonzaga also affiliated.
Here's an update from the Spokesman on how Eastern's big move this fall is not only adding more students to the campus, but will help strengthen the U-District's presence.

start something big

Spokane's Riverpoint area is moving forward to spread the wealth beyond an educational district.

Shawn Vestal
Staff writer

Riverpoint is ready to jump the boulevard.

Spokane's downtown college campus has been gradually adding buildings and filling them up. In the next year, an extension of Riverside Avenue will begin, and the first building in a proposed commercial development is under negotiation — steps that are expected to open up the campus for growth south of Spokane Falls Boulevard.

College and civic officials hope that will fuel more business development, housing and services in the surrounding university district — a vision of a campus neighborhood that would eventually take in Gonzaga University to the north, the new convention center and East Main business district, East Sprague Avenue to the southeast and Riverpoint in the center.

"A lot of the pieces have been falling into place," said Cody George, an economic development adviser to the city of Spokane.

Several businesses have opened near Riverpoint, and two new condo projects are planned nearby. But generally, the kinds of businesses that help create a neighborhood atmosphere — restaurants, services and retail shops — have not flourished around the campus.

And the need for affordable student housing could become more urgent as programs are added and the student body grows.

"I really do think eventually there will be a need for housing for students around campus," said Ron Dalla, the executive dean at Riverpoint for Eastern Washington University.

For now, an influx of EWU students has pushed the Riverpoint campus to the equivalent of more than 2,000 full-time students, between the two universities. EWU sold its downtown center at 705 W. First Ave. and moved most of those programs into temporary facilities at Riverpoint while examining ways to build or find permanent space.

Brian Pitcher, chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, said the campus is coalescing around a biomedical theme — with nursing coming to its new $34 million building next year, the addition of medical students next fall, and other health sciences efforts growing there as well. But programs in business management, design and other areas are also part of the mix, and WSU and EWU are working to develop a single academic vision, university officials say.

The campus is also developing its efforts to press research toward commercial uses via its applied science lab. Campus officials hope to develop contract research with government and industry, for example, with an interest in energy and security technologies emerging from the shock-physics lab.

Government and local companies already help fund some of the research into the effect of sleep deprivation on work performance.

And the campus's emphasis on health sciences and biomedicine offers opportunities for spinning off new technologies into start-up companies, officials say.

Pitcher said WSU officials will be looking to add classroom and lab space in the next legislative biennium, though specific proposals are still being hashed out and aligned with the needs of EWU in particular.

"It's getting pretty tight and we need to get in queue for additional space in the future," he said.

Connecting pockets

George has an aerial photo of the University District with recent developments flagged. At the northeast corner of the district are the new Kennedy Apartments at GU. In the center is a cluster of developments at Riverside, from the new academic center to the nursing building under construction. At the southwest corner are the new East Main business developments and the Convention Center expansion.

George said the U-district, long in the planning and promotion stages, is beginning to take shape in pockets. What's needed now, he said, are connections between the pockets to create the contiguous feel of a neighborhood.

Next year, work is expected to begin on the $5.3 million extension of Riverside Avenue along the railroad tracks and connecting with Spokane Falls Boulevard. That will open up the southern half of the campus and push it closer to the East Sprague business district. The city has received the federal and state funding for the project, he said.

The extension would mark the southern boundary of the planned Pine Street project, a five-acre development intended to mix public and private uses connected to the school's research and applied science.

Pitcher said commercial interest in the project has grown in recent months, and the school is in discussions for a possible first building now. He said he couldn't say who the tenant or tenants might be, but that it would be a commercial venture connected to the school's "biomedical direction" and there may be an announcement in the coming months.

The overall project includes the Jensen-Byrd building, and historic preservation advocates have objected in recent years to plans to tear it down. Pitcher said no decision has been made about the future of the building, but the "first option" is to renovate it if the school can develop possible tenants.

Influx of programs

The addition of EWU students to Riverpoint is putting the most pressure on the campus right now, officials said. Eastern sold its downtown center to a Portland developer, and moved most of its programs to various corners and hallways at Riverpoint.

But the situation is unsettled, with no faculty offices for some professors, and programs spread through a couple of different buildings. Social work classes will be held at Spokane Community College. The journalism program, a longtime Spokane presence, was returned to the Cheney campus to the displeasure of faculty and students.

EWU has said it intended to build a new facility at Riverpoint — and it got legislative approval to use the proceeds from the building sale toward that end.

But Dalla, the EWU dean, said a new building may not be the only option. Another possibility is the purchase and renovation of the Riverpoint One building now owned by SCC.

Some EWU programs are being moved to that building for when Eastern's academic year begins Sept. 26.

"We're going to be bursting at the seams, especially at night," Dalla said. "Every classroom is going to be used that is available on campus."

Pitcher said finding space for EWU is a priority for everyone on campus, and he noted that the two colleges share facilities, and there aren't buildings devoted to solely one or the other school and there won't be in the future.

And next year there's bound to be even more growth on campus, with the arrival of nursing students in the new building and the first medical students to study under a recently approved program in collaboration with the University of Washington and EWU.

Pitcher has been chancellor at WSU-Spokane for more than two years. He said he's excited to see people throughout the community coming together around the idea of creating a high-tech campus amid a livable neighborhood and business district.

"I feel like we could go faster, but when I look back and see what's been completed, I'm pretty excited about it," he said.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?