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Reclaiming History 

by Paul K. Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he proverbial phoenix -- what the Egyptians called the Bennu bird -- symbolized the soul of the sun, the continuation of life at each dawn. As the story goes, only one exists at a time, and as the aging phoenix approaches its demise, it builds a pyre and is consumed by flames. But out of the ashes rises the next phoenix.


Now picture Spokane's phoenix -- the Phoenix Project, that is. It's both a legitimate proposal and lingering pipedream to merge the principles of mixed-use development and historic building preservation at the vacant Jensen-Byrd building, which is where Main Avenue dead-ends just east of Division Street.


The Jensen-Byrd facility was originally a hardware distribution store built in 1909 by the Dane who founded the business, O.C. Jensen, who set down roots here in 1883. The six-story, 180,000-square-foot building, with a large attached single-floor warehouse, has been vacant for years, and is now owned by Washington State University.


The building has been personified as yet another old, weathered Spokane character about to be crushed out of existence to make way for the imposing structures of postmodern architects.


"WSU-Pullman hasn't shown a great deal of interest in maximizing the value of their property in Spokane for students and faculty, let alone the community," says Chris Kelly, the force behind the Phoenix Project.


Kelly has planned a May 10 "coming out party" for the public and key stakeholders to listen to and soak up his vision for the building. WSU called for proposals last December to test the waters for architectural and development firms to pitch their plans for the five-acre site.


"I don't have a preconceived notion about what should be done there ... without an assessment of the historical, cultural and mechanical significance of the structure," says Jerry Schlatter, WSU's associate vice president of capital planning and development. "There's no sense in getting way ahead of any proposal for this project."


While looking at the nuances of the WSU plans and Kelly's vision, the keen observer can quickly see there is a deeply engrained philosophical debate about exactly how an old building fits into the master plan for WSU-Spokane's Riverpoint Higher Education Park, near downtown.


Kelly sees the requests for proposal that WSU initiated as muddled, obtuse and not very fair in regard to the potential for the building's future, which will carry a 55-year lease.


Schlatter is quick to point out that the Phoenix Project did not make the first cut after Kelly presented his multi-scoped proposal to WSU honchos. Northwest Architectural and Goebel Construction have joined in a partnership that WSU has selected to develop the property.


For Kelly, working with a developer, or in this case a partnership, would be ideally suited to both the wants of WSU and the Phoenix Project's plans.


"The long-term benefits of highly paid graduates donating to the university, license fees from technologies commercialized via the Phoenix Project, stock appreciation from endowment investments in successful startups, and so on, would vastly exceed whatever revenues the university would get merely from rents on a suburban-style office project."


Members of WSU-Spokane's Interdisciplinary Design Institute, preservationists and experts in community planning like Dick Winchell, chair of EWU's departments of Urban Planning, Public and Health Administration, posit that any future project for the Jensen-Bryd property should involve saving the buildings and integrating upstart businesses and a farmers' market and other projects that would interlink students, the campus community and the public.





Pizza Pans and the Paradigm Shifts & r & The owner of America's largest pizza pan company, John Crow of Lloyd Industries, sees the Phoenix Project as a way he could give back to the community. He'd like to see a demo kitchen, a place where he could test market new lines of his cooking wares, but also where a Spokane Farmers' Market could utilize stoves and ovens. Crow and Kelly see it as a "culinary academy."


Crow has traveled around the world to cities large and small to market his extensive line of professional kitchen equipment, including his pizza pans and pots. Crow sees Spokane full of potential, and he repeatedly emphasizes how he's a fan of public markets like the ones in Portland, Maine, and Canada's Granville Island in Vancouver.


Crow is quick to broach the self-defeating Spokane complex: "I think we've been disappointed so many times. We've had so many false starts. And so many have believed Spokane can't do it or doesn't deserve to have things that other cities have. But I think Spokane is ready to take off. We have so much money here and so much talent."


The head of Lloyd Industries, who has the pizza pan contract with Domino's Pizza and who just brokered deals in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, believes in Kelly's stumping style to create an incubator for small businesses in Spokane.


Crow's concept of the Jensen-Byrd building is biased toward having all tenants connected to "foodie stuff" and entertainment, including photography and film production studios. However, his heart is tied to leaving a legacy for a permanent and vibrant farmers' market in Spokane.


"If you can't give something back to the community, then you aren't extending the ministry," says Crow, who is an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. He adds that he'd be happy to leave his mark on Spokane by supporting local agriculture and educating young people about food and health issues. "If it said, 'John Crow, Known for Creating a Permanent Farmers' Market,' on my headstone, I'd be a fulfilled man."





Radio Waves and Colorful Canvases & r & But Kelly's Phoenix Project extends beyond food and farmers. He's been formulating a way to get Spokane Public Radio's Dick Kunkel interested in throwing in support and putting up capital for possible new digs, or at least for a state-of-the-art performance/recording studio on one of the floors.


While Kunkel won't comment about plans to leave the very cramped 5,500 square feet in their current location on North Monroe, he was quick to point out that any creative mix of tenants that might be part of the Jensen-Byrd project would generate synergy and give artists a reason to stay in Spokane.


"Spokane needs to keep its eye on its ball. We need to be a town that is open to creative people," Kunkel says.


From the airwaves to visual arts, Kelly's Phoenix Project presentation is bound to raise some eyebrows in international circles. Melville Holmes, one of the Davenport Hotel's key artists and a self-described "old school" artist and preservation advocate, is quick to piggyback onto the idea of creative arts housed in the same space.


Holmes sees a fine arts print-making studio (lithography and intaglio) as one possibility for the Jensen-Byrd project -- which would prod both Spokane artists and the public into becoming more confident about the city's cultural underpinnings as well as encouraging a fermentation process by which a "Spokane School" might eventually emerge.


"The Spokane School encompasses the values of Spokane: conservative, with beautiful historic architecture, and all this natural beauty," the 55-year-old Holmes says. "This could bring some attention to some of the artists in this area who have been invisible."





High Hurdles & r & So many aspects of the Phoenix Project and the effort to save the Jensen-Byrd building seem to harmonize with what others are conceiving as a support network to encourage small businesses to get off the ground. Pete Chase, president of Purcell Systems, sees the incubator angle in Kelly's multi-layered proposal as important to both the Phoenix Project's pitch and to Spokane's economic development.


"The biggest frustration in jump-starting local ventures is trying to raise capital," Chase says.


Chase and Don Yates, who has decades of experience in high tech and telecommunications industries, see the climate in Spokane ripe for a "mini-Silicon Valley." Kelly touts the Phoenix Project as aiding and abetting this germination process by centralizing and showcasing those burgeoning tech and marketing wunderkinds.


Kelly's targeted a lot of folk to weigh in, buy into or put a stake down for his vision, including North by Northwest's Rich Cowan, who says he's considering several locations to relocate his film studio, including the Jensen-Byrd building.


Cowan appreciates the Jensen-Byrd building's proximity to downtown and the "synergistic nature" of it being part of the U-District, the old architecture and the fact that the mix of proposed tenants would create a magnetism in attracting more talent to the area.


The robust thread throughout this project seems to connect really creative minds with movers and shakers who have returned to Spokane after tasting success in places like L.A., San Francisco, and Silicon Valley.


The dampening of the Phoenix Project seems to be coming from WSU. For now, WSU's Schlatter sees the Phoenix Project as "way out ahead of itself," and lumps Kelly in with the group of students and architecture design faculty who kept saying from the start, "Save the building."


"I guess you can consider me as just a bureaucrat who thinks like a bureaucrat," Schlatter says, tongue in cheek.


For now, WSU has agreed to pony up $50,000 for an assessment by Portland-based SERA Architects, which employs experts in the field of cultural resource evaluation. SERA Architects, known for cutting-edge new urbanism and green building practices, has 90 days to come up with a report.


Schlatter is quick to add that WSU sees the Jensen-Byrd as another one of its "underperforming assets," and the university is not in a big hurry to move on it. "It could sit vacant for several more years."


Those are fighting words for guys like Kelly, who has invested a lot of personal energy into proposing this project that fits right in with the goals of WSU's stated purpose of mixed-use design: parameters that call for development of health, research, student and academic-related uses.


"It reminds me of the opposition to two phenomenally successful projects that we're basing ours on," Kelly says of critics of his plan. "Pike Place, which is about twice the acreage WSU plans to lease, but about the same potential square footage, has $70 million in annual revenues. Would $35 million or more in gross revenues be satisfactory to WSU? We don't know because they never let us talk to them. What we're talking about will ultimately generate far more profit than any of the other proposals."


The other project Kelly alludes to -- Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace -- faced naysayers who told the project's developer, Jim Rouse, that no one would visit "a bunch of run-down buildings." Instead, Rouse used the buildings to create the first "festival marketplace" in 1976.


"They had more visitors than Disneyland in the very first year," Kelly says, "and Faneuil Hall Marketplace earned twice as much per square foot as Rouse's high-end suburban malls."





"The Phoenix Project: Kick-Starting a Regional Renaissance" is on Wednesday, May 10, at 5 pm at SIRTI's 4th Floor boardroom, 665 N. Riverpoint Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.
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