Spokane’s South University District - the Next South Lake Union?
By Terren Roloff, WSU Spokane Communications and Public Affairs Director
If you heard WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown’s presentation at the recent Life Sciences Inland Northwest conference, you know about our efforts to encourage life sciences businesses to move to the southern part of Spokane’s University District near our campus. Since the conference, other Spokane organizations have joined us in spreading the word.
This summer, the University District Public Development Authority (UDPDA) presented the case to the community’s largest Rotary Club, describing development opportunities and their tax increment financing capability. The Spokane Journal of Business reported on the Health Sciences and Services Authority’s (HSSA) outreach to biomedical firms that would benefit from HSSA’s grants for health sciences research in Spokane. And Dr. Brown repeated the concept when she spoke at the Greater Spokane Incorporated retreat for the local chamber’s board of directors.
The reasons for this push are many.
Location is everything. It’s no secret that land in Spokane is relatively inexpensive compared to Seattle, but what may not be known is that we’re talking about affordable land in a prime location. The southern part of the University District is under-developed, abuts the campus, and is within the triangle comprised of our health sciences campus, the lower South Hill medical centers, and downtown; all within a mile of each other.
Seattle proves the concept. We believe the 160 acres of under-developed land in the south University District could well be our own South Lake Union. Our growing health sciences campus houses WSU’s Colleges of Pharmacy and Nursing and a recently-expanded medical education program and employs more than 30 health sciences researchers. That number is increasing. Our 25-year-old campus provides educated people for companies to collaborate with and a talent pool from which to hire, just as the University of Washington expansion did for the South Lake Union life sciences industry.
Initial investments are already underway. The area is ripe for revitalization. Money has already been pledged to a spectacular bike/pedestrian bridge that will connect the campus to a nearby commercial district. Private developers are showing interest in building a mixed-use urban village to house the growing WSU Spokane student population. The City of Spokane and the UDPDA are working to encourage development of a neighborhood that embraces manufacturing, research, a variety of housing options, retail and entertainment. And development of a modern electric trolley for the University District and nearby downtown neighborhoods is being studied.
Finally, recent capital improvements to the area add mightily to the attraction. WSU Spokane is just completing an $80 million Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences building. Nearby Gonzaga University, just across the Spokane River, has made numerous improvements and expansions. And the City of Spokane has beautified the area with two lovely boulevards graced with fabulous green features.
The business community sees the economic potential of a health sciences campus. Strong community and state support, combined with WSU President Elson S. Floyd’s vision, has changed the landscape of this area of Spokane. Where 20 years ago the area south of the Spokane River and just east of the commercial district was still recovering from being a railroad wasteland, it is now a growing campus with state-of-the-art academic buildings and lovely green spaces, as well as a major contributor to Spokane’s economy. In fact, health care and higher education consulting firm Tripp Umbach of Pittsburgh, PA, describes our campus as having an annual regional economic impact of $350 million and an employment impact of 1,800 total jobs in 2013.
It comes down to livability. Spokane’s favorable commutes, easy access to recreation, great schools, and high degree of affordability, combined with the attributes noted above, provide a great atmosphere for business. Give us a call if you’d like to learn more.
The University District Public Development Authority and the Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County are working with Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) to provide incentives to business. Get more information on Spokane’s potential by contacting GSI at 509.321.3617.
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