WSUV seeks off-campus housing

Request proposes master lease deal for 40-100 units

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 
photoClick to enlarge

A commuter college since its 1996 opening, Washington State University Vancouver's Salmon Creek campus could offer an option for nearby student housing by the start of its fall 2014 semester.

WSUV's request proposes that the university would sign a master lease agreement with the owners of between 40 and 100 units of off-campus living space located within walking distance of the approximately 350-acre campus at 14204 N.E. Salmon Creek Avenue. Anyone can apply, according to the document, which lists a due date of May 15 for proposals. Eligible properties must be well-lit and secure, with furnished apartments and a plan for addressing student meals, whether each unit offers individual kitchens or a communal food service.

The transaction would not include project funding, said Lynn Valenter, vice chancellor for finance and operations.

The opportunity has piqued the interest of at least one pair of local developers, Dean Kirkland and Tom Files, developers of the $22 million 134th Street Lofts, a complex set to break ground by late summer just north of the Northeast 134th Street exit off Interstate 205.

But the student housing prospect is a low priority for him now, although he does plan to apply, said Kirkland, a Vancouver-based commercial developer who is planning the complex with Files, his business partner.

"We're intrigued by the offer and have to see how it goes," said Kirkland.

Their project -- first proposed as a 120-unit upscale complex with a 31-unit extended-stay component -- is certainly on the university's radar, according to Valenter. She said the prospect might also appeal to local owners of other complexes, including several hotels built during better economic times.

"Part of the RFP (request for proposal) process is to allow for creative ways to meet that requirement," she said.

The student housing could make a huge difference in the university's ability to attract first-year students in the increasingly fierce market of higher education. It also could help the institution retain those students through a four-year academic experience or beyond, said Valenter.

"Research shows better retention of students who have a residential experience tied to their university experience," she said.

Kirkland, and Files successfully built and leased the 192nd Plaza and 192nd Plaza South, a duo of retail projects near the intersection of Southeast 192nd Avenue and 20th Street in east Vancouver. The business partners also are building a 110-unit apartment complex called Westridge Lofts just south of the retail projects.

Kirkland said he foresees rising demand for new multi-family developments, despite the reluctance of lenders to loan for commercial construction projects.

"No matter what, it's still very difficult to get construction loans," he said. "You have to be strong financially and have a lot of equity in your project."

Valenter said construction funding could be helped along by WSU Vancouver's offer to master lease, fill and oversee unit leasing, measures that

would show lenders the project has a large block of guaranteed occupancy.

"Contracting with a state agency just provides a level of economic certainty," she said.

As for the local campus, having a nearby housing component could give the university a sharper edge as it vies for enrollments in the competitive battle for college admissions.

WSU Vancouver's three-to-five-year growth plan also includes a student housing component for an on-campus site, according to a written statement in the university's off-campus housing request for proposal.

"Before it even got to that point, there's got to be (state) funding in place and approvals," said Dave Hurt, a procurement specialist at the Vancouver campus.