$8.3M centerpiece of Ogden’s new arts and creative district downtown nearing construction

OGDEN — Officials from Ogden have released new details on an $8.3 million arts endeavor that will serve as the centerpiece of a developing creative district downtown and further transform a once decrepit section of 25th Street.

Sara Meess, division manager with Ogden City’s business development department, said design work on a new arts plaza at 445 25th St. is progressing, with construction expected to begin as early as February.

The plaza is envisioned to function as a gateway between the downtown and the east-central neighborhood and serve as one of the main attractions of the Nine Rails Creative District — an effort the city has been working on for nearly three years.

Part of a larger initiative called the Adams Community Reinvestment Area, the city’s goal with Nine Rails is to establish an epicenter for arts and culture in Ogden. The 150-acre Adams redevelopment district, which includes all properties between 23rd and 28th streets from Washington Boulevard to Jefferson Avenue, includes both commercial retail and residential buildings and many historic properties. The city will use tax increment financing to help fund potentially millions of dollars worth of construction projects associated with the CRA.

Meess said the plaza will include the following: flexible open space to accommodate large-scale art installations, performances and other art-based activities; a ramp that leads to an elevated platform; a large LED screen; a water feature; and a "smart grid" — which is a system of poles that will provide lighting and power connections that would support different installations and performances. There’s also a plan for a large "gateway sculpture" that would span over 25th Street near the plaza site, which is directly east of the historic Bigelow Hotel.

Brandon Cooper, Ogden’s deputy director of community and economic development, has also said the project will include "innovative arts-based programming," which will be developed by Weber State University.

According to city council documents, the city has already invested $1.7 million in the project — costs that involved purchasing the property, demolishing an old motel and design work.

The site of the plaza 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, 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.

A transformation of the area began in earnest in 2018 when Ogden developer Thaine Fischer began an overhaul of the 57,000-square-foot garage that sits just across the street from where the plaza will be located. Now named "The Monarch," that building includes new space for restaurants, retail and event space, exhibit and collaborative space, and design studios.

As for the plaza, Meess said the city estimates construction will cost another $4 million. Meess said funding will come from a variety of sources including city funds, RAMP grants and, notably, from a $2.2 million donation from the Dr. Ezekiel R. and Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation. Additional funds will be requested from the City Council, including ongoing maintenance costs and $600,000 for a project reserve fund. The City anticipates that arts programming for the plaza will be funded by a $2 million endowment that the Dr. Ezekiel R. & Edna Wattis Dumke Foundation intends to make to WSU.

Meess said the plaza is planned to be open to the public by October of next year. She said it will add a new dimension to Ogden’s arts scene.

"Our overarching goal for the project is to create new opportunities for our community to engage with art in the public realm," she said.

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