Union Station gets new director at a critical time

Wednesday , July 09, 2014 - 4:36 PM

OGDEN — Keeping the doors open at Ogden’s iconic Union Station has been no easy task during the past decade.

But with a renewed interest from the city and a massive capital improvement campaign on the horizon, times are changing — and Elizabeth Sutton says it’s change she’s ready to embrace. 

On July 1, Sutton became the executive director of the Union Station Foundation, replacing long-time former director Roberta Beverly.

Sutton comes from Utah State University where she worked as the deputy director of the Museum of Anthropology and the director of an interdisciplinary program in museum studies. She taught classes in anthropology and museum studies.

She’s already made the move from Logan to Ogden and said she’s thrilled with the new opportunity.

"I really enjoyed working at USU, but this is an opportunity to be a lot more involved with the public,“ she said. ”I’m excited to reach out and meet new people and bring new programs and exhibits to the museum.“

Charlie Trentelman, a board member with the foundation, served on the hiring committee for the position and said Sutton should be a good fit for the challenges the Union Station will face in the next few years.

Oddly enough for someone with a career in museums, Sutton said she found them ”dusty and boring“ when she visited them as a child.

"But that’s not what modern museums should be,” she said. “We want to change that perception and get people really engaged in history.”

Sutton takes over the station at a critical juncture in its storied existence.

In cooperation with Ogden City, the foundation is starting a capital improvement campaign to raise funds for the renovation.

The foundation will establish a steering committee, which will include members who have experience with historical renovation and raising funds on a large scope, to run the campaign.

The city will partner with the foundation in the early stages of the campaign, providing money for a renovation study and to help pay for the station’s utility bills. The foundation is also seeking state money for ongoing operation and maintenance of the building.

The city will provide nearly $90,000 during the renovation to help pay the station’s utility bills when the foundation falls short. The city will also contribute $200,000 to fund a study that will cover costs associated with development of the renovation plans and design.

City documents show $6 million in site improvements to the station (although those funds will come from entities outside of the city), but foundation officials have said the total value of the renovation will be more than that.

"There are a lot of exciting things going on and it’s a good time to be part of (the station),” Sutton said. “It’s a tremendous, historic building that really highlights the American West and we need to showcase that.”

In the immediate future, the station is in need of new wiring and piping, upgraded restrooms and a new boiler. The renovation will first tackle those items, but eventually the entire campus will be upgraded.

Ogden City maintains ownership of the station, but about a decade ago it stopped providing staffing and maintenance for the building and cut much of the funding traditionally used for upkeep. Since then, the non-profit foundation has done most of the groundwork necessary to keep the station alive and thriving.

Beverly took over as director of the station in July 2004, just as the city was cutting ties with it. She says her 10 years with the station proved to be exacting, but also very rewarding. 

"It was certainly challenging — it’s a big building and it’s old and we had a small staff,“ she said. ”But it was also one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had. When the city changed its direction, there were countless people who stepped up and came together to help us keep it open.“

Beverly said she’s happy to see the city become involved with the building again and thinks the capital campaign to renovate it will solidify its future.

"That building is an icon,” she said. “And we need to treat it that way.”

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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