Monday, August 13, 2007

It's a gift, who doesn't like a gift?

I know I'm supposed to be all happy about the recent gift to the U of Idaho by the founder of Coldwater Creek. He has agreed to give the University over 30 million so that they can build a 4 building extension campus is Sandpoint. Sounds great, no?

But this is more than a simple donation. As part of the "gift", the U of Idaho is going to sell over 70 acres it owns near downtown to his non-profit organization. The organization will then "allow" the University to construct it's campus on a portion of the land. As part of the deal, the city of Sandpoint will have to construct a high school on remaining portion of the parcel or it will revert back to University ownership. Sounds good, huh? The University is allowed to expand, full-fill it's mission of educating the state, it brings much needed higher education opportunities to the region, and the city secures core downtown land for a future high school.

But I can't help but be skeptical. I'm not sure why the University had to transfer possession of land in order to build on the land. Why couldn’t the donation merely be stipulated on the construction of the extension campus? Why did the school have to transfer possession of such a potentially valuable strip of property? In 100 years, with as fast as Sandpoint is growing, when the city by the lake will be over 100,000 people, will the "foundation" break the lease with the University and develop on the prime real estate it has acquired? Is this simply a way to set up a nice family trust and avoid tax consequences? What is being done to protect the University in the long term?

Even without the transfer of property, the construction of the school itself benefits the benefactor. He is trying to develop a fortune 500 smack dab in the middle of nowhere. This, no doubt, complicates the already incredibly difficult task of finding smart, educated workers. Even here in Seattle, in the supposed "best educated city" in America, Microsoft and other employers struggle to find educated labor. I can only imagine the difficulty faced by the shortage of skill, educated labor in North Idaho that Coldwater Creek must work with. It is much cheaper, for Coldwater Creek, if it can find a way to educate the labor force it already has rather than try to import them from somewhere else. So, the presence of the school is a direct benefit to his company and his personal fortunes. So why did he need to require the U of I to sell the land to his organization?

I know I should be more trusting. I'm sure that there are no nefarious motives and that this gift was truly that, a gift, for the benefit of the University, the citizens of Sandpoint, and the people of Idaho. But, yet, I'm still skeptical? As proud alumni, I ask why this couldn’t have been done without the school having to give up a valuable asset. Anyone have any answers?

1 comment:

kleverasever said...

This is an interesting post... Sometimes looking the gift horse in the mouth lets you know you need an equine dental specialist STAT! I hope you find answers to these questions and post them.

Maybe the BEE would do an article if they allowed investigative journalism...