OGDEN — A project that will serve as the centerpiece of Ogden’s developing arts district and represent a 180-degree transformation of one of the city’s most seedy locales is gaining some serious momentum.
As Ogden City and a small group of private entities continue to develop a plan for a new arts plaza at 445 25th St., city Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Brandon Cooper said the Dr. Ezekiel and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation has pledged $1 million toward the project. The plaza is envisioned to function as a gateway between the downtown and the east-central neighborhood and function as one of the main attractions of the Nine Rails Creative District, which the city has been working on for nearly three years.
“The goal for Nine Rails is to establish an epicenter for arts and culture in Ogden,” said Sara Meess, a project coordinator with Ogden’s Business Development department. “But more specifically, we were really interested in developing new ways for our community to engage with art and also looking at how we could pull more art out into the public realm. We did identify an arts plaza … as a high-priority project.”
Cooper said the project, while still in the design phase, will include significant art elements in its design and “innovative arts-based programming,” which will be developed by Weber State University, to drive broad community engagement with the arts.
Jake McIntire, a consultant on the project with Union Creative Agency, said the goal is to make the plaza an “accessible, welcoming and equitable” contemporary art space that the community feels connected to.
In addition to anchoring Nine Rails, city officials say the plaza will also reinvigorate a prime piece of real estate that has been blighted for years.
At 445 25th St., the plaza will sit directly east of the 94-year-old, historic Bigelow Hotel. The site was once home to the old Courtyard Inn Motel.
In 2017, the city bought the dilapidated motel for $970,000 from owners Jayhoun Saissan and Jalal Afnane, according to city council documents, and later demolished it. The motel was run down and crime-ridden for several years before the city purchased it.
In December 2011, former Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey ordered the building closed for occupancy after it was cited for multiple violations related to junk and debris, unlicensed vehicles, no smoke detectors and several other safety hazards inside the facility’s rooms.
The motel was brought back into compliance in May 2012 and occupants were allowed back in, but problems persisted. According to council documents, the Ogden Police Department made 71 service calls to the motel between November 2016 and June 2017. The nature of the calls ranged from noise violations and drug use to thefts and assault.
Cooper said the city has spent a total of $1.57 million on the site, which includes costs to acquire, remediate and stabilize it.
“We had big dreams, but we didn’t quite know what they were going to be back then,” Cooper said. “We’re really excited about this. We want it to be something people come from far and wide to see and participate in.”
The city hopes to have the plaza fully designed by the end of the year, with construction finished by October 2021.