Attempt to change land status of Ogden Nature Center, Fairgrounds rouses ire

Tuesday , July 18, 2017 - 5:15 AM3 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — The lure of economic development and adding hundreds of new jobs to Business Depot Ogden led Ogden City administrators to act in haste before the opportunity passed them by. 

But lack of public involvement quickly sparked a firestorm of mistrust and suspicion after rumors spread on social media about the Ogden Nature Center having to move, and amenities at the Golden Spike Event Center and Fairgrounds having to shut down due to new commercial interests needing their space.

“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said Monday afternoon prior to release of a written statement explaining his administration’s now-abandoned efforts to become a manufacturing site for Stadler Rail AG

“The city’s bid would have involved the development of Business Depot Ogden land west of the Weber County Fairgrounds, and might have created up to 1,000 good-paying jobs in Ogden City,” the statement said. 

RELATED: Clearfield officials OK rezone for planned Stadler Rail plant

Part of that effort involved asking Congressman Rob Bishop about transferring federal deed restrictions attached to some of the land connected to the old Defense Depot of Ogden.

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“This would have facilitated the Stadler Rail Group transaction and created a process for developing other deed-restricted parcels adjacent to BDO in the future if advantageous opportunities arise to do so,” Caldwell said in his statement.

By phone Monday, he elaborated: “We thought it was a unique opportunity for underutilized land. So we contacted Rob Bishop’s office and were kicking the tires to see what it meant. We had no intent to do anything with the Nature Center.”

According to Caldwell, his office received Stadler’s site request around June 6. And Bishop held up his end of the deal. Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act, a $696 billion defense spending measure that now awaits Senate approval, with Bishop’s amendment removing deed restrictions associated with certain former Defense Depot Ogden properties.

Those restrictions limited use of the Golden Spike Event Center and Ogden Nature Center to recreational. A 20-acre parcel west of the Golden Spike Event Center and Fairgrounds — used primarily for parking — also fell under that restriction, and that particular property already had rail in the ground, a feature that could have helped Ogden attract Stadler Rail AG’s interest.

But Caldwell said the subsequent swirl of misinformation and unintended consequences caused Ogden City to withdraw from the running.

Reached by phone Monday morning, Bishop said he pulled his amendment to House Bill 2810 because it had not been fully vetted on Ogden City’s end. Bishop explained that Ogden City representatives requested the amendment through their D.C. lobbyist about two weeks ago “with an opportunity, they said, of bringing a significant number of jobs into the BDO, To do that would require some land expansions . . . so we agreed to assist them.”

Bishop assumed the idea had been thoroughly vetted and all parties involved were on board, including the Ogden Nature Center.

In a statement Monday, Ogden Nature Center spokeswoman Brandi Bosworth said they learned of Bishop’s amendment about 10 days ago.

“Once it was learned that this request had been made, the Ogden Nature Center met with the city, and the city decided to remove Ogden Nature Center from this amendment,” Bosworth said, noting they also spoke with Bishop’s office Monday and were assured that nothing would happen without all parties on board.

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“Moving forward, the ONC remains optimistic that open-minded and transparent discussions will be the norm,” Bosworth added, “and that will lead to greater opportunities for the ONC to enhance and fulfill its mission of uniting people with nature and nurturing appreciation and stewardship of the environment,” 

A statement issued by the Ogden City Council Sunday night underscored their support of the 152-acre nature preserve, and its continued protection as open space. In November 2013, the City Council approved the center’s 50-year lease. 

“The Council was not consulted or involved in the Mayor’s initial decision to reach out to Rep. Bishop’s office regarding a change in federal legislation that would remove deed restrictions on former Defense Depot Ogden property where the Ogden Nature Center and Weber County fairgrounds are located,” the statement said. “However, the Council has been informed that the Mayor subsequently requested that the Ogden Nature Center property be exempted from any legislation removing these deed restrictions. The Council is continuing to gather information regarding how this issue developed.”

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Weber County’s three commissioners also issued a statement Monday in support of the Golden Spike Event Center and Fairgrounds.

“The GSEC is NOT closing! In fact, we currently have 20 years remaining on our existing lease with Ogden City and an additional 50-year lease option following that,” the statement said. “The GSEC is a critical component to our community ...  please know that all three Weber County commissioners feel the Fairgrounds / GSEC is the intermountain area’s crown jewel of equine centers, and we would not compromise the millions upon millions of dollars it generates annually bringing in and out of state tourism.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck. 

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