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Avista Announces New Catalyst Building In U-District

Doug Nadvornick/SPR/Michael Green Architects

This week Avista announced it plans to create what it calls its Catalyst building along East Sprague in Spokane’s University District.

The building’s name is apt because Avista hopes it will become a catalyst on several levels.

The first is based on its geography. The building will occupy space on Sprague Avenue, about a half mile east of Division. It will sit near the south landing of the new pedestrian bridge that will link the Riverpoint higher education campus with East Sprague. That area of town is going through a revitalization process.

“The vibrancy that’s happening on the north landing area of the University District is exciting. But remember, the University District begins at Sharp Avenue and it ends at the hospitals,” said Avista Chairman and CEO Scott Morris, speaking at an event announcing the building on Tuesday.

“But what’s even more exciting about this vision is the commerce that will come to the south landing area, to an area that has been undercapitalized, that absolutely needs an economic boost and that economic drive,” he said.

Then there’s the catalyst to boost higher education in Spokane.

“I wanted Eastern to be the anchor tenant for this building,” said EWU President Mary Cullinan.

She announced the university will move three of its programs from the Cheney campus to the new building: electrical engineering, computer science and visual communication design. She says, eventually, Eastern will bring about 50 faculty and 1,000 students to the Catalyst building.

“We’re going to be working to meet the needs of local employers," Cullinan said. "We’ll help foster a creative regional economy and engine for vitality and growth that attracts business and industry and encourages talented folks, including our own amazing students to stay and invest in this region.”

Michael Green, from the Vancouver, B.C. firm that’s doing the architecture work, says the building will serve as a catalyst that brings together people with different ideas.

“It’s divided into two blocks with this middle atrium space that’s really intended to gather together this mixing of disciplines, this mixing of industry and academia together to make a real incubator space for the future,” Green said.

That brings us to the next catalyst, the building itself. The new facility will be built with cross-laminated timber made by Katerra, the California company that is building a manufacturing facility in Liberty Lake.

“It’s a material that allows us to store carbon in buildings, which means it’s a process that allows us to actually move toward net-zero carbon buildings as far as the embodied energy, what the building’s made out of. It’s also a material that’s beautiful," Green said. "You’re looking at wood structures, much as we saw a century ago. We’re bringing them back in a very new innovative way. And Spokane and this region of Washington state is going to become a world leader in this conversation.”

The innovation firm McKinstry will work with the architects to develop the Catalyst building’s infrastructure. McKinstry’s Dean Allen says the facility will serve as an energy catalyst for the neighborhood.

“We’re going to create an eco-district that is going to be a place in this neighborhood where multiple buildings can both contribute and consume energy, heat and cooling and share those resources around the neighborhood. This will be another first and it will also create an extension, really, of the R-and-D playground, invention, innovation hub,” Allen said.

Construction on the Catalyst building is scheduled to start in the fall and take about 18 months.