Spokane Journal of Business



The Journal's View: Sprague catalyst vision promising


The soon-to-be-constructed University District Gateway Bridge that will connect the Riverpoint Campus to the East Sprague neighborhood and the lower South Hill medical district is exciting in its own right, but the only way it will fulfill its potential is if it truly becomes an economic development conduit.

Without the kinds of projects needed at or near each end of the span to help infuse it with human energy, via a steady flow of pedestrians and bicyclists, it risks becoming an expensive and underutilized 450-foot-long, 120-foot-high piece of urban infrastructure art.

That’s one of the reasons why a project being proposed by an affiliate of Spokane-based energy company Avista Corp. for property near the $15.4 million bridge’s south landing is an exciting new development. It could help kindle that energy quickly.

As the Journal reported last month, the ambitious multiuse development, appropriately referred to as the Catalyst Project, would be located on 5 acres of land on the north side of the 500 and 600 blocks of east Sprague. The property is owned by Avista Corp. and affiliate Avista Development Inc.

Avista Development has entered the early land-use planning stage with the city of Spokane for the first phase of the development concept, which envisions construction of a 140,000-square-foot, six-story building, followed possibly by other multistory structures in later phases.

Latisha Hill, Avista’s senior vice president of development, declines to estimate the value of the overall development, assuming the concept becomes reality. However, the long-range vision for the Catalyst Project area impressively appears to rival in scope the $45 million, 300,000-square-foot Jensen-Byrd site development planned separately by private developers near the north landing of the bridge.

Planned uses for the initial Catalyst Project building include laboratories, offices, classrooms, study areas, and some storage, says a predevelopment application filed by Avista Development.

Hill said earlier this week that it’s too early to discuss the progress of talks with undisclosed partners and other shareholders in the project, but that she hopes to be able to disclose more soon. Not surprisingly, one thing that’s clear, she said, is that the initial planned building will need to have an anchor tenant to help spur other tenant activity there.

She had said earlier that she hoped construction on the Catalyst Project would be underway simultaneously with the bridge work, which is to be completed next year. Referring to the projects envisioned at each end of the bridge, she made a point when she said Avista would like to be sure the bridge “is equally and beautifully yoked. We don’t want an amazing bridge to land in a gravel lot.” We agree.

Hill clearly is excited about what’s to come. She says she believes the Catalyst Project has the potential to become a regional asset, and not just a benefit to those nearby who use the bridge regularly. 

Who knows whether it can meet those high aspirations, but we look forward to watching the project come together.