Major new mixed-use housing development proposed in the University District

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The developers behind the 940 North student housing building are back at it with the “University District Apartments” building, proposed for 230 N Division on the East End of downtown Spokane. The six-story building features significant architectural interest first-floor retail. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.com)

Last year, we heard that a developer was interested in constructing a 26-story condo tower at 230 N Division St, a former auto shop on a prominent site at the edge of the University District and the East End of downtown Spokane. The proposal seemed to be as serious as any in technical terms (planning documents featured relatively detailed architectural renderings), but unrealistic given the relative distance from the city’s central core and the not-altogether-great history of then-involved developer Lanzce Douglas.

Now, a new developer has submitted a Pre-Development Conference for a major development at that site. University Housing Partners of San Clemente, California already developed the already-popular 940 North project on Ruby. Now, the firm has proposed a six-story mixed-use project featuring five floors of housing aimed primarily at WSU Spokane and EWU Spokane students. The $20 million project would include 12,000 square feet of retail along both Spokane Falls Boulevard and Division Street, a critical factor in engaging the street level. 100 parking spots would be tucked behind the street as we suggested in our post on the original proposal for this site. And renderings (more after the break) feature significant architectural interest and color.

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A closer look at three important ways to improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan

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This is the site plan for the Jensen-Byrd District, as proposed by JB Development, a partnership between Wally Trace and McKinstry. A few changes would dramatically improve the development plan for the site, making it more inviting for the next fifty-plus years. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

When the Jensen-Byrd District plan was revealed in full for the first time last week, we rightfully noted the spectacular form and scale that the plan took. At 250,000 square feet, it’s the largest downtown Spokane development in nearly a generation. And by including space well-suited for high-tech and biotech companies, it could mark a turning point in Spokane’s overall economy.

But it’s important to note also that the site plan has some significant pain-points, challenges which we expect to be resolved before the developer is granted a building permit. It’s easy to forget that once a building is built, it’s likely to remain there for at the very minimum, fifty years (well, most of the time). That’s why we need to ensure that this development is held to a high standard: the University District is intended to drive Spokane’s economy in the 21st century and beyond. To create a place fit for the next fifty-plus years, we need to do better than the current plan. Here are some concrete steps to making that happen.

1. Create a better, more inviting, and more distinct north landing for the University District Pedestrian Bridge. In the current plan, a pedestrian crossing the bridge northbound will land facing the parking garage, where it’s unclear whether there will be a clear path forward to the Jensen-Byrd Building itself. At this landing, there should be some wayfinding information, as well as other active space, such as retail on the first floor of the parking garage. Imagine an inviting cafe or coffeehouse with outdoor seating and programmable space. There should also be an easy path through the parking garage to the Jensen-Byrd. (It appears that there may be an alleyway of some kind for this purpose; how could this alley be made more inviting for pedestrians? Overhead lights? Restaurant space a la Mizuna?)

2. Develop a phased master plan for the overall site, including development for the surface parking lots included in the current site plan. There’s zero justification for the surface parking lots to remain on the site plan, given the 450-space parking garage included in the first phase. This land would be better put to use in the interim as open space or public parkland; in the future, it should be developed to support the continued growth of the University District. As of now, however, we don’t know when or whether that will happen. This planning and building approval process should include specific planning for these sites.

3. Repave the section of Main Street in front of the Jensen-Byrd Building with brick, and close it to vehicles, to create a more inviting pedestrian landscape and a plaza of sorts for events and special occasions. Even if the street is not closed to vehicles, it would be more vibrant, more interesting, and more programmable if paved with brick. Imagine Friday food truck gardens or Saturday farmers’ markets on this site. Paved with brick, this could become a huge selling point to any potential tenant of the Jensen-Byrd District development.

Overall, these three changes could go a long way toward improving the Jensen-Byrd District plan. It’s unclear what degree of flexibility to public comment the developers will have, but it’s worth a shot. Fortunately, it’s likely that design review will be required for this project. We will share information on public comment when it becomes available.

In the meantime, your best bet to offer feedback for the project is to use the comment form on the development’s website. Be sure to select “other” for the contact category so it’s directed to the right people. Perhaps we can make a difference in improving this project.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Would these improvements help improve the Jensen-Byrd District plan to make it more future-proof and vibrant? Would you approve of a better connection from the Pedestrian Bridge, given the large amount of public funding going to that project? What about brick paving for Main Ave? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you!

 

BREAKING: Massive 250,000 square foot Jensen-Byrd District promises adaptive reuse, space for tech/biotech companies

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If everything goes as planned, by 2018, the Jensen-Byrd Building in Spokane’s University District will grow into a mixed-use area of its own, featuring tech/biotech offices, retail, retaurants, and an athletic center over 250,000 square feet. (PHOTO: jensenbyrd.com)

 

Earlier this year, WSU Spokane awarded a contract for remodel and reuse of the Jensen-Byrd Building to a partnership of Seattle developer Wally Trace and the local office of design-build energy efficiency firm McKinstry. We knew that the partners had significant plans for the site, but now we’re getting our first look at the project.

And it’s absolutely spectacular.

Not content to simply remodel the historic Jensen-Byrd warehouse, JB Development will develop a massive, 250,000 square foot adaptive reuse of the main building and the Pacific Produce Building and construct a new 442-space parking garage, a 50,000 square foot retail and fitness center, and an 84,000 square foot mixed-use tech/biotech office building. The result will be what they are calling the Jensen-Byrd District. Aimed at tech and biotech companies, the buildings will feature the large floor plates, modern data connections, and retail amenities that large companies expect, but which don’t exist at this point in our city.

In other words, if marketed correctly, these two buildings could help Spokane land a major tech or biotech tenant. It’s a dream that’s been building for a while, with significant investment in the University District (including the Pedestrian Bridge, expected to be complete in 2018) in pursuit of attracting private companies. With the right targeted action and marketing, now we have a specific site that could accommodate those demanding tenants.

Jump after the break for more discussion and renderings.

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How to fix Spokane’s “brain drain”

Biology and bioengineering labs are a critical component to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) education. What if Spokane offered scholarships to local students interested in pursuing STEAM? (PHOTO: Noll & Tam)

Spokane has a “brain drain” problem. Currently, many of our brightest high school seniors choose colleges and universities located on the coast, in cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, or in the east, in areas like, New York, Massachusetts, and the Washington, D.C. area. (For example, this blogger attends Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley.) That would be fine if those students moved back to Spokane upon graduation. But they don’t.

Typically, these students leave Spokane when they turn 18 and don’t come back, perhaps partially because in-routes to established companies, economic opportunity, and culture are seen as more plentiful in those larger, more established cities. There’s “more to do,” more “people like me,” and “more jobs.” (Or so people think.) The brain drain continues.

But what if we had a way to end it?

We talk a lot in this community about bonds and levies. These tax measures are designed to allow for infrastructure investment, parks and recreation improvements, road construction, and school renovations. A small levy, or even a large grant from a charitable organization, however, would be enough to make a big difference in our “brain drain” problem.

Let’s offer any high school senior in Spokane who wishes to pursue a career in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) a $5,000/year college scholarship. In return, the student would agree to move back to Spokane for a period of at least three years post-graduation (with postponement available for years of service and graduate school). Simple. Easy. These fields are constantly cited as the types of industries which our city must attract in order to remain competitive in the 21st century. So let’s do something about it. Let’s encourage students to go into STEAM fields. Let’s encourage students to move back to Spokane. Let’s grow our local economy by leaps and bounds.

The best part is that this type of measure need not be expensive. A levy the size of the roads levy planned for the November ballot, for example, would make a big difference. $10 million/year for higher education is a small figure compared to the possible economic benefit of increased STEAM engagement in the area. Even a large grant or series of grants could be huge for area students.

And with a requirement that student return to Spokane, there’s a good chance that we’d hook them in for good.

What do you think? Could college scholarships/grants for STEAM students help improve Spokane’s local economy and increase the number of young, urban professionals? Would you be willing to pay $20 more per year in property taxes to fund scholarships for high school seniors? Disregarding a funding mechanism, what do you think about requiring that students move back to Spokane? Share your thoughts below, on Facebook, and on Twitter. We love to hear from you.

Idea #14: Move most important graduate-level programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane

Washington State University’s Health Sciences Building in Spokane’s University District illustrates the possibilities presented by graduate education in the Spokane area. Clearly something still is lacking. Could it be time to relocate programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane?

Here’s a bold idea that might not attract too much popular support but should be considered as part of a broader package of ideas that would revitalize downtown Spokane and enhance educational opportunities and outcomes in our state. What if Washington State University moved a significant number of its graduate-level programs to its Spokane campus in the University District? This would be a bold move requiring a massive build-out on the Riverpoint campus, but it would also solve one of the bigger issues facing our city addressed in Idea #12; namely, a lack of quality graduate-level programs, especially in the sciences, engineering, and other STEM fields.

This deficit of graduate education might be a result of having such a large research institution located “nearby,” but not actually within our city limits. Pullman is nearly 75 miles away, which results in challenges for both the institution and the city in educating and retaining young urban professionals in order to attract attention from large companies looking to relocate.

Under this scenario, WSU Pullman would become primarily and undergradate-focused institution with some research being performed by professors and students of the remaining graduate programs, but also new and ground-breaking opportunities for undergraduate research in STEM fields. A focus on teaching would heighten the level of education offered by the institution and better educate undergraduates for a twenty-first century global economy. WSU Spokane, meanwhile, would expand into a full-service graduate student campus, meeting the needs of its students through high-quality labs and field work and a wealth of internship and externship opportunities in the local community. Perhaps a commuter rail service could connect the two campuses in order to drive synergies between the two offered products.

Of course, I don’t expect WSU Pullman to go undergraduate-only anytime soon, and I don’t expect WSU to move all graduate programs to Spokane. But I do think it raises an interesting question. How can WSU Spokane better provide graduate education in STEM fields to the region? Is it time for major STEM programs like computer engineering to be relocated to the Spokane campus? How can our statewide higher education system meet the needs of a globalizing twenty-first century economy? These are questions the community needs to be asking as it develops a vision for the University District and for the city moving forward.

Gonzaga wayfinding on point

Gonzaga has recently started upgrading its wayfinding signage. It's excellent.

Gonzaga recently began to upgrade its wayfinding signage. We think it’s excellent.

Gonzaga University is in the midst of an incredible growth spurt, with increased enrollment and the construction of a brand-new University Center to replace the aged (and now-demolished) COG. What better way to mark such transformation with a new universal wayfinding and signage scheme that feels modern, fresh, and thoughtful, but also traditional, intellectual, and refined.

Installation of the new signage began on the west end of campus near the Jundt Art Museum and the Tilford Center building. More signs will continue to go up across the university as signs are replaced and repaired. We think the upgraded signs could serve as a model for other universities, both in the area and nationally. And hey, STA and Riverfront Park could always use upgrades.

See another construction photo after the break.

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If It Had Happened, Part 4: Gateway Office Building

The Gateway Office Building, which would have been located near Division in Spokane's primary entry corridor. (PHOTO: Stephen Meek Architects)

The Gateway Office Building, which would have been located near Division in Spokane’s primary entry corridor. (PHOTO: Stephen Meek Architects)

Here’s a project which would have changed the face of Spokane near one of its major entry points forever. And it might have just been the most architecturally-distinctive developments in Spokane’s history. The Gateway Office Building would have been built in downtown Spokane between the East End and the University District, acting as a sort of “bridge” between those two rapidly-developing areas downtown, just as it serves as a “gateway” to our city. Hence the name.

As proposed in early 2007, otherwise known as Spokane’s development “black hole,” due to the high number of projects that were proposed but never saw the light of day, the Gateway Office Building would have featured eleven stories, with retail space on the ground floor. At 365,000 square feet, it would have been a large building with four stories and 400 total parking spots. Renderings reveal that AdvantageIQ was the proposed major tenant. AdvantageIQ later became Ecova and, somewhat regretfully, took a major position in the Rock Pointe Office Building instead of moving to this building, which, you guessed it, was scuttled due to the economic crisis.

See more renderings after the break.

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