OGDEN — The Ogden City Council has approved a plan to complete a total overhaul of a large section of downtown near the city’s municipal block.
On Tuesday night, the council approved the budget and project plan for the Continental Community Reinvestment Area, as well as agreements with local taxing entities that will help fund the $236 million endeavor.
The CRA, which is located in the city’s Central Business District in the six-block area between Wall Avenue and Washington Boulevard from 25th to 27th street, will use tax increment dollars to help fund several redevelopment measures there including vacant building removal, the development of new housing units, public infrastructure improvements and the renovation of existing buildings.
Ogden Deputy Director of Community and Economic Development Brandon Cooper said some of the key projects include the redevelopment of the old Hostess factory and the creation of two new town squares with 175 apartment units, eight townhomes and other amenities.
The project at the former Hostess site will feature 345 apartments, 50,000 square feet of office space, green space and public parking.
Several residents commented on the plan at Tuesday’s public hearing, some addressing concerns with it, others voicing support. Angel Castillo said she liked the project, but was concerned that lower-cost housing wasn’t being given enough weight in the plan.
Cooper said while there are more households then houses in Utah, with construction costs driving up rents and mortgages, Ogden’s situation is a bit different.
“When you focus on just our geographical boundary, our micro-economy is much, much different (than other areas of Utah),” he said. “Ogden for so long has been the sole provider for low-income housing.”
Cooper cited a 2016 study by Weber County and the housing authority that showed Ogden, as a Housing and Urban Development Department entitlement city, had 4,000 low-income housing units too many. That scenario becomes more glaring, Cooper said, as the study showed other entitlement city’s in the area didn’t have enough low-income housing.
Cooper said while a place like Salt Lake County, for example, has a plethora of market-rate and above housing, Ogden has just the opposite.
“The question isn’t ‘Should we be providing low-income housing?’” Cooper said. “Because we already are. That’s undisputed. Our approach isn’t just ... saying ‘We need low-income housing’ and putting our blinders on. We’re really trying to do this systematically.”
Cooper said there is a deficiency of market-rate housing in the city and some substandard low-income housing that needs to be replaced.
“We need to bring in ... quality housing at all income levels so we can have a diversified, unique community we all value,” he said. “That conversation is immense.”
Another common concern spoken by residents at the public hearing was the use of tax dollars, particularly from the Ogden School District, to help fund the project.
As part of the Continental CRA plan, tax increment will be collected from Weber County, Ogden City and the school district at a rate of 90 percent for up to 22 years, or until certain dollar thresholds are met. The CRA asks for a maximum contribution of $7.1 million from the county, $7.8 million from the city and $20.1 million from the school district.
Cooper said the notion that money is “taken” from the district or the county and put into the project’s redevelopment account, is inaccurate.
Redevelopment Areas like the Continental CRA work by freezing the tax valuation for all taxable properties inside a swath of land that’s been targeted by the city for reinvestment.
For a specified time period — or up to a certain dollar amount — future increases in property tax revenue are diverted and used in the redevelopment effort, a mechanism called Tax Increment Financing.
Cooper said in cases where an RDA is established, the tax incentives are necessary to bolster development where the private market otherwise would not. He said the tax valuation of properties inside Ogden RDAs grow four to six times faster than other city properties, which at the end of an RDA cycle, creates more money for taxing entities.
“(The county and the school district) don’t feel like it’s money out of their pocket, because it isn’t,” he said.