January 3, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 37

Gateway Project is Eastern’s supersized vision

It might be one of the most complex projects Eastern Washington University has ever dreamed up. It’s called the Gateway Project, and while people who have heard of it might think of it as the plan to expand seating at Roos Field, to university officials and others involved, it’s much more.

Future visitors to Eastern Washington University – and Cheney – could be greeted by this impressive new structure, known as the Gateway Project. If it comes to fruition the Gateway Project would not only add new permanent seating and donor suites to Roos Field, but would also provide various student amenities and retail space.

The project is a vision linking institutional workings of the university with retail and commercial businesses aiming to increase the fun and excitement for Eagle fans on game day, enhance the college experience for students and provide an economic engine for Cheney and the region. Coupled with other elements of Eastern’s overall master plan, the project, if fully realized, could increase seating at Roos, turn Washington Street into a tree-lined boulevard and provide a second commercial area for Cheney residents and university students.

“It’s more than just the stadium,” University Advancement director of development Tim Szymanowski said.

The first phase is a seven-story building replacing the existing grandstands on the east side of Roos. While the actual design isn’t finalized yet – Szymanowski said they are in the “schematic design” phase – the vision laid out by university officials has been enough to inspire participation from several outside sources, including architectural firms BLRB and Parametrix, which provided five months and $140,000 worth of work as an in-kind donation.

Szymanowski said schematic design is about 12-15 percent of the project. It’s a process that establishes the overall footprint and space allocations, but doesn’t define space attributes, through having external agencies and organizations provide design criteria, such as the city of Cheney with information on easements and permits as well as the NCAA with requirements on things like how close the seating can be to the field.

Even though schematic design is the realm between concept and actual construction, there are a lot of things the university foresees going into Gateway. The first floor of the facility will house new home and away team locker rooms as well as rooms for officials, cheerleaders, an athletic training room, strength training room and the new home of football operations. There will also be locker rooms for Eastern’s marching band.

And there are plans for retail space. Right now that could likely include an EWU gear store, but also feature food amenities such as a sports bar, pizza shop, casual restaurant and even a bank and a cell phone store.

Szymanowski cautioned that the overall square footage, and how much each retail piece may want or need, won’t be tallied until construction and negotiated occupancy are finalized.

The second floor would contain more retail as well as an all-athlete student academic success center. General admission seating with a concourse and concessions will be on the third floor, with commercial office space possible on the fourth and fifth. Some occupant ideas here are health care providers, businesses Szymanowski said that could be linked into existing university programs such as physical therapy that would provide students some “live fire” experience in their major fields.

The sixth floor would contain club seating and related amenities while the seventh floor would be home to more pricey loge, cabana and executive suites. The design and number of these will again be determined by Eastern’s survey results.

An overall estimated price tag of between $28 million and $30 million was presented at the March trustees meeting, but Szymanowski said those are early numbers and they’re not really spending much time on price yet.

And that’s another one of the many components to the Gateway Project – revenue. If approved by the board it’s up to the university Foundation, Eastern’s fundraising-arm, to find the money to build and manage the facility as the owner/operator. Paying off costs and operating expenses must be covered by revenue generated at the building.

To help them gain a clearer picture on that aspect of the project, Szymanowski and other Foundation and university officials took a field trip this summer to universities similar in size and composition as Eastern that had built a Gateway-style project: Appalachian State, James Madison and Liberty University.

Once the new portion of Roos is completed it will serve as a cornerstone to other university development ideas. More seating could be built in the north and south end zones of Roos, turning it into a 26,000-27,000-seat venue, while Washington would be enhanced. Taking into account Eastern’s land holding, developed and undeveloped, on the west side of the street, Washington is essentially the geographic center of the campus.

Once the Gateway facility is paid for the revenues would be available to the Foundation to help fund other areas for Eastern students.

“Endowments aren’t cutting it completely anymore,” Szymanowski said. “Once this is paid off, it gives the Foundation a nice revenue options to invest in scholarships.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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