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University of Idaho Campus in Sandpoint Delayed


Plans for a University of Idaho campus in this north Idaho lakeside town have stalled largely because of slumping stock prices in a women’s clothing company, backers say.

University officials had hoped to begin offering classes in the fall of 2009 before the announcement Monday by the Wild Rose Foundation, run by Coldwater Creek Inc. co-founder Dennis Pence. The foundation has offered $36 million toward the project on 77 acres of land owned by the university.

“As a large percentage of the assets of the foundation reside in equities, and the value of the portfolio has declined substantially over the last six months, Wild Rose has requested to the University of Idaho that the planned development be delayed until such time as the condition of the investment portfolio of the foundation improves,” Pence said in a statement.

Coldwater Creek stock comprises a “substantial portion” of the Wild Rose portfolio, said Ford Elsaesser, a lawyer and foundation spokesman, and shares have fallen 70 percent in the last year. The stock was trading Tuesday at $8.40 a share, up five cents, but well off its 52-week high of $31.25.

The company, which sells women’s apparel and accessories, announced last week that it would post a third-quarter loss amid sluggish clothing sales.

Mayor Ray Miller said the indefinite delay of the campus is disappointing but understandable.

“I talked to Mr. Pence today and he’s fairly optimistic it won’t be too long,” Miller said. “We’re still behind the project all the way.”

Susan L. Thilo of Coeur d’Alene, a member of the state Board of Education, said the panel still looks forward to the project. “All parties want it to happen,” Thilo said. “The timing just needs to change.”

The board voted in August to sell 77 acres owned by the university just north of downtown Sandpoint to the foundation for $6.25 million. Most of that money would have gone into a trust for educational programs at the site, and the foundation agreed to spend at least $30 million to build the first four buildings, which were to be given to the school.

Starting in 2009, a variety of classes would have been offered with an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies in the liberal arts, natural resources and food science. Other programs would have included an executive master’s degree in business administration program, already available in Sandpoint, as well as offerings from North Idaho College.

The delay will not affect the MBA program or other university programs now offered in Sandpoint, officials said.

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