After years of planning and months of public engagement and meetings, the Ogden City Council voted on January 10th to approve moving forward on the two bonding proposals to finance the downtown WonderBlock Development, the associated parking structures, and implementation of the Downtown Paid Parking Management System. The WonderBlock and Parking initiatives support the city’s Make Ogden Downtown Master Plan, which was adopted in 2020, establishing a 25-year vision to guide growth and development in downtown Ogden.
WonderBlock concept rendering -- Ogden City Community & Economic Development
During the City Council meeting, Council Member Marcia White, who voted to support both bond issues, stated: “My philosophy is this – we need economic development, we need economic opportunity. The sort of tax revenue proponents say the WonderBlock plans will generate can help the city fund other initiatives – pay hikes for police, plans to rebuild the Marshall White Center, the proposal to overhaul Union Station.”
To be located along 26th Street between Grant and Lincoln Avenues on the empty 5.9-acre site previously occupied by the former Hostess production plant, the WonderBlock development will be located in the heart of Downtown Ogden – connected directly to Historic 25th Street. The mixed-use project will feature a combination of residential dwellings, retail, offices, grocery, food and beverage, as well as hospitality.
- 354 residential units, high amenity, within walking distance of arts/culture/events
- Approximately 100,000 square feet of class A office space
- Approximately 50,000 square feet of new retail space
- Approximately 20,000 square feet of new grocery store space
- Boutique hotel
- Curated public amenity space, including pedestrian pathways and public outdoor amenity spaces
- Convenient public parking
Some residents who spoke at the meeting expressed concerns about how large or ambitious the projects were, feelings about the decision process moving too fast, and suggestions that the city should delay moving forward until it appeared the situation with the overall economy was more certain. Others, including local business owners and organization leaders, spoke in support of the development activities and the impressive levels of previous public engagement that had informed the development process.
“I believe we have here an opportunity for a prosperous community and prosperous business,” stated Chuck Leonhardt, president and CEO of the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce. Leonhardt also said, “It does take a lot of guts and it takes a lot of planning – as well as a lot of fortitude. It takes all of that to make hard decisions. I stand before you today as a voice in our business community in support of this project, whole heartedly. We’ve all been brought along, the business community, throughout this entire process in a very succinct and inclusive way. We have done the homework to get here. Now, it’s the time for action. Our business community wants this as a whole and we’re ready for that action to take place – so let’s do it.”
Kym Buttschardt, owner of Roosters Brewing Company, encouraged the City Council to support the paid parking plan and WonderBlock development during the meeting, stating “This whole thing has been going on since March 2019. I am a small business owner here who absolutely supports paid parking. Is it going to be tough during the transition? Yes, (however) we are Ogden and people want to be here. This is a community of choice and they want to come downtown, whether they come on public transportation or whether they park. Our downtown business needs paid parking. For years we’ve been going to meetings and talking, looking at the Make Ogden plan. The BDO (Business Depot Ogden development) was an episodic event. The Junction (development) was an episodic event. This (WonderBlock) is an episodic event, a generational event. You have smart staff; you have hired amazing professionals; and I encourage you to take bold action and move forward to get this next episodic event started. There are many small businesses who do support this.”
“Studies have indicated, and results show that economic development matters and makes a difference to visitor’s decision making,” stated Sara Toliver, president and CEO of Visit Ogden. “The vibrance that economic opportunity creates impacts the quality of life for the residents in our community through its investment and the resulting sense of place, and opportunity to work, live and play,” said Toliver.
“We’ve been part of this Make Ogden plan and this WonderBlock project for a long time – several years,” stated Kim Bowsher, Executive Director for Ogden Downtown Alliance. “Every single time they (Ogden Community and Economic Development and the developer, J. Fisher Companies) have come to our office or to a public meeting, they have remembered … people’s names and their personal stories … and that (their input/perspective) has been incorporated into the plan. The level of communication … I think is remarkable,” said Bowsher. “I also think the scale of the project that is being discussed is necessary for what’s happening here. And just to speak to the need, it’s definitely there, … so I am in favor of this project.”
Relative to the financial details required to support the development of WonderBlock, the city is planning to enter into a joint venture, public/private partnership with Utah-based developer, J. Fisher Companies to build and operate new development. J. Fisher Companies will invest $124 million, and the city will contribute $64 million to $75 million. For its portion, the city expects to utilize the incremental taxes generated by the new development (Tax Increment Financing or TIF) and lease revenues from previous investments at Business Depot Ogden to pay the annual bond payments for the project.
The city also plans to finance and build two public parking structures at the WonderBlock site that it will independently own and operate to support the new development and adjacent downtown parking needs, as well as fund the costs associated with implementing a paid parking system downtown, at a cost of $53.5 million to $85 million. The city will satisfy the associated annual bond payments via revenues generated by the downtown paid parking system.
For the city’s funding requirements associated with both the WonderBlock and the parking project investments, no property or sales tax increases are required (no impact/increases for citizens), as funding will come from the taxes generated by the project, lease revenue returns from previous city investments, and parking user fees paid by visitors to downtown.
In follow-up comments regarding the City Council’s positive decision to support the new development projects, Mayor Mike Caldwell said, “I’m obviously really happy with it. This will set a positive tone for our downtown. It doubles down on the support of our commercial downtown district. Ogden is a community with a rich history of innovation, which has driven our economic growth and shaped our vibrant downtown. With projects like WonderBlock, we strive to continue building upon this legacy, with the goal of increasing economic opportunity and further enhancing the quality of life in our community.”
WonderBlock and other downtown development projects are vital to Ogden City’s broader economic development strategy, including current efforts to further strengthen the local defense industry ecosystem. “There is an urgent and growing need for technology innovation that supports our national defense,” explains Sara Meess, Business Development Division Manager for Ogden City. “A successful ecosystem requires places that support and attract the businesses and talent producing innovative technology. With close proximity to Hill Air Force Base and a growing number of defense technology companies, Ogden’s historic and vibrant downtown provides an ideal environment for innovation. However, additional office space and housing options are still needed, along with gathering spaces that foster creative collisions. As a mixed-use project woven into the heart of downtown Ogden, WonderBlock represents an important addition to our city’s capacity to support the defense ecosystem. As a place where ideas and people come together, WonderBlock will support new economic opportunities for the benefit of our community,” said Meess.
Moving forward, the City Council will consider the details of the operating agreement with the developer and the logistics related to the issuance of bonds – which will likely take several months to complete. Once those details are addressed, the first phase of work, which would include site preparation and construction of one of the two proposed parking garages, could begin as early as this fall. The first two phases of the WonderBlock development could be complete within two to three years, and it is expected that the downtown parking system would be implemented over a period of three to five years.
The Make Ogden Downtown Master Plan is available for review at www.MakeOgden.com .
Details regarding the WonderBlock development is available at www.ogdencity.com/WonderBlock.
Information about the proposed downtown Paid Parking Management System is available at www.ogdencity.com/GoParkOgden.
Each webpage also provides a feedback link to allow for comments and questions to be communicated. Additionally, Ogden City Community and Economic Development can be contacted via email or via phone at 801-629-8910.