BRIGHAM CITY — The city council has given the go-ahead to a controversial hotel that will change the look of downtown Brigham City.
And during a meeting this week that could have been seen as normal, tensions continued about Mayor Dennis Fife’s continued leadership.
Councilman Tyler Vincent is the city’s mayor pro tem, a function he compares with a vice president who steps in when the top leader is gone. Council members and city residents, he said after the meeting, continue to smart in the wake of what has become a city scandal after Fife refused to step down after admitting to an extramarital affair.
“The council still feels he needs to resign,” Vincent said, “but we have to move the city forward.”
Vincent last week was given the job of overseeing city personnel, a function the mayor had handled previously. Vincent’s new duties will include hiring and firing of city employees.
The council approved a development agreement with Western States Lodging to bring a Hampton Inn, part of the Hilton chain, to downtown. The nearly $6 million hotel will be connected to the proposed Academy Square.
David Webster, CEO of Western States Lodging and a resident of Mantua, said the management company is aiming for construction to begin in late spring, with the hotel set to open before year’s end. Under that agreement, it will purchase the ground surrounding the Academy Square building for $500,000.
As part of the financing, the city will host a loan for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is designed to encourage development in rural areas.
Fife said the city is not financing the hotel development in any way and is only serving as the pass-through agent for the loan.
Concerns about the city’s financial dealings in bringing the hotel to the city, as well as the issue of fairness to existing Brigham City hotels, has prompted continued public comment about the project at city council meetings over the last few months.
Paul Larsen, Brigham City’s director of community and economic development, said the architecture of the Hampton Inn will be designed to match the flavor of Academy Square.
At the center of the Academy Square project is the Academy Building, also known as the Christensen Academy of Music and Dance, which was built in 1903 as a dance and arts academy by the Christensen brothers. One brother, Willam, went on to found Ballet West.
The restoration of the old academy is projected to cost about $2 million.
Councilwoman Ruth Jensen reminded the council that the Academy Square project was to be paid for through private fundraising, but the city’s involvement, she said, has been expensive in areas such as land purchases and time spent by city employees facilitating the development.
As part of the development agreement, Western States Lodging will oversee daily management of the Academy Square. It will serve as a convention and reception facility that, Webster said, will be available for wedding receptions and high school events.
Western States Lodging also manages the Davis Convention Center in Layton, as well as 13 Hilton hotels in Utah, Nevada and Idaho.
Some residents have been concerned that, should the hotel default, the city would be left liable for millions of dollars. Vincent asked if Western States Lodging had a plan for slow economic periods.
The hotel business is always cyclical, Webster said.However, he added, “we haven’t lost a hotel yet. We don’t enter into a hotel project lightly.”
The council also agreed to purchase property at 75 S. 100 West, which will be exchanged for property at 69 N. 100 East, the site of Larsen Brothers Plumbing & Heating, which will become part of the Academy project.