By Jim Davis Herald Business Journal Editor
EVERETT — It’s another sign that Washington State University is planting its flag in town in a big way.
The university plans to open a WSU Connections store in downtown Everett this spring to sell sweatshirts and tailgating gear, Cougar Gold cheese and Wine by Cougars.
“I had actually gotten a couple of calls from people saying I have a perfect place for a Cougar Connections store,” said Connie Niva, WSU Board of Regents chairwoman who lives in Everett. “I kept saying that we’re not going to rush that, but it turns out that the university felt it was good timing.
“There’s a lot of excitement in Everett about having a potential branch campus.”
WSU is set to take over administration of the University Center of North Puget Sound in north Everett next July. Plans are already under way to spend $10 million to design a new 95,000-square-foot home for the center, which is now located in Gray Wolf Hall on the Everett Community College campus.
There’s a great deal of hope in Everett that, from this, a branch campus will emerge.
The new store will give the university a physical presence in downtown Everett for alumni, as well as people not taking classes at the University Center. It will be located at an 1,100-square-foot storefront at 2809 Colby Ave., at the site of the former Enchanted Florist.
This is only the second WSU Connections store. The other one opened in Seattle in 2004. The decision to open the store in Everett was made by WSU President Elson Floyd, said Mel Taylor, the university’s executive director of real estate and local relations.
“Dr. Floyd just wanted to have a presence for WSU in Everett,” Taylor said. “He’s excited about Everett and he thought that having a Washington State University Connections in downtown would be a good fit.”
Everett’s city economic development director Lanie McMullin said the university is establishing a brand by putting the WSU Connections store in downtown.
“That’s exactly what a university does when they move into the community,” McMullin said
The store is described as an interactive boutique highlighting WSU programs and featuring WSU products. In addition to the wine, cheese and gifts, WSU Connections will feature a variety of murals, backlit displays and framed images of WSU’s accomplishments in research, teaching and outreach.
City leaders in Everett have sought a four-year branch campus for years, decrying the lack of opportunity for higher education in the state’s third largest county.
Everett’s first choice was to bring a University of Washington branch campus to the city.
But Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said in a speech to the Everett Area Chamber of Commerce in 2011 that the UW was more interested in expanding programs at the UW’s Bothell campus than opening a new campus in Everett. Since then, the city has courted WSU and the Pullman campus has been receptive.
McMullin said that Stephanson and Floyd have been working hard on this partnership.
“It’s a four-year university making its way slowly into our city limits,” McMullin said. “We should all be wearing crimson. It’s a wonderful accomplishment to have them establish a presence here in the city.”
Niva, who is a former Port of Everett commissioner, said that WSU, as a land-grant university, aims to help with the economic future of every county in the state. She said providing higher education for Snohomish County only makes sense.
“This is a very logical step for a land-grant university,” said Niva, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from WSU in 1962. “When we hired Dr. Floyd, we said we want you to create in our state what a 21st-century land grant university would be and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
She said she’s interested in seeing how the WSU Connections store will fare. She joked that it doesn’t matter the color of your flag, “everybody likes Cougar Gold and Wine by WSU.”
“This is still a pretty new project in Everett,” Niva said. “But there’s a lot of enthusiasm here, and certainly by me. This is just a way to welcome the community to WSU.”
Jim Davis: 425-339-3097; firstname.lastname@example.org.