When Elson Floyd becomes the next top Cougar, he may end up spending almost as much time living in downtown Seattle as he does nearly 300...

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When Elson Floyd becomes the next top Cougar, he may end up spending almost as much time living in downtown Seattle as he does nearly 300 miles away on the Palouse.

For more than 90 years, successive Washington State University presidents have lived in a stately four-story mansion on the west side of the Pullman campus.

But more recently, WSU has been quietly creating a second home in Seattle. And that more urban setting was promoted as a selling point to potential presidential candidates.

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Washington State University

Enrollment, fall 2006: 22,037 on four campuses (Pullman, Vancouver, Tri-Cities and Spokane); 18,276 in Pullman.

Student demographics, fall 2006: 72.8 percent white; 5.6 percent Asian/Pacific Islander; 4.8 percent international; 4.1 percent Hispanic; 2.4 percent African American; 1.2 percent Native American; 9.1 percent not reported

Where freshmen are from, fall 2006: 89.2 percent from Washington; of those, 64.6 percent are from west of the Cascade Mountains.

Undergraduate resident tuition, room and board fall 2006: $13,774

Endowment About $250 million

Source: Washington State University

Two years ago, WSU bought an $850,000 condominium in Belltown for the exclusive use of the president and his or her spouse while in Seattle. The 1,600-square-foot condo boasts two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fireplace.

And WSU has nearly doubled its prime downtown office space at 520 Pike St., which it calls WSU West. The incoming president will be able to use the offices to conduct business and hold meetings. WSU first began leasing space there in 2000 and now leases 9,600 square feet at a cost of $204,000 annually.

Current WSU President Lane Rawlins said he uses the condo for one or two days just about every week.

Seattle “is clearly the heart of the state of Washington,” Rawlins said. “It’s where the money is, the business is. We are very closely connected to Seattle. And from Pullman, you can only fly to Seattle.”

Because WSU is the state’s land-grant institution, it’s legally obligated to provide some sort of presence in each of the state’s 39 counties. But much of the Seattle expansion revolves around a huge fundraising effort that, behind the scenes, is already under way.

The campaign target is likely to be set somewhere between $600 million and $1 billion in private grants and donations over about eight years, money that will be used to build new facilities and dramatically boost the university’s endowment. The University of Washington is nearing the end of a similar campaign in which it is raising $2 billion.

Floyd likely will publicly announce the campaign once enough donations have rolled in to determine an achievable target.

Seattle provides a logical base to run the campaign. Figures provided by the Alumni Association indicate that more than 60 percent of WSU alumni living in this state reside in King, Snohomish or Pierce counties.

One of the more famous — and wealthy — of WSU’s former students is Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who lives just a few miles away on Mercer Island.

Seattle will also serve as a base for the new president to mix with some of the state’s intellectual, political and business elite. And it will provide close access to the UW. Although the state’s two biggest public universities remain fierce competitors on the sports field, leaders from both say they want to continue forging political and research ties.

Rawlins said he didn’t think the prospect of living in rural Pullman would have put off any potential candidates.

“When you are president of a university, you don’t have any other life. It wouldn’t matter if you were in the middle of New York City,” Rawlins said. “And there’s golf and fishing. It’s what people in the world are looking for right now.”

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639

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