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WonderBlock plans get initial public scrutiny; officials set bond hearing date

By Tim Vandenack - | Nov 16, 2022
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Ogden city officials held an open house on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Ogden Municipal Building on the proposed WonderBlock development. In the photo, Robb Berg of Design Workshop, which helped with the development planning, answers questions about the plans, gesturing to a model of the WonderBlock area.
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Ogden city officials held an open house on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Ogden Municipal Building on the proposed WonderBlock development. In the photo, Ogden Redevelopment Manager Damen Burnham, with the beard and tie, answers questions about the plans.
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Members of the public review plans and information at an open house on Ogden's proposed WonderBlock development, held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Ogden Municipal Building.
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Members of the public gather at an open house on Ogden's proposed WonderBlock development, held Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Ogden Municipal Building. The model in the center of the photo depicts the WonderBlock plans.
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Ogden city officials held an open house on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, at the Ogden Municipal Building on the proposed WonderBlock development. In the photo, Ogden Redevelopment Manager Damen Burnham, with the beard and tie, answers questions about the plans.

OGDEN — Word is spreading about the planned WonderBlock project in downtown Ogden, a massive development with a price tag north of $240 million, and Ogden officials have taken a very preliminary step toward moving ahead with the plans.

Still, final action — notably whether to bond for $117.5 million to $160 million to help cover the cost of the plans — is perhaps eight weeks away.

The Ogden City Council and city staffers involved in the WonderBlock project held an open house Tuesday at the Ogden Municipal Building, providing more information about the plans and answering questions of those on hand. Afterward, during the subsequent meetings of the Ogden City Council and the other bodies made up of council members that are responsible for such things, the officials approved the parameters for two proposed bonds, also setting a public hearing for Jan. 10.

“This is a real unique opportunity for us and our downtown,” said Mayor Mike Caldwell, whose administration is the driving force behind the plans. The WonderBlock project — part of the larger Make Ogden plan, which contemplates improvements over the long haul across a broad swath of Ogden’s core — aims to make the city center a “vibrant, active, unique place.”

No formal public comment was sought at Tuesday’s meeting. Those attending the crowded work session that preceded the open house listened as officials publicly outlined the plans then individually asked questions of the consultants and planners involved afterward during the open house.

The WonderBlock plans aim to fill a largely empty 5.9-acre piece of land with apartments, a boutique hotel, a grocery store, two parking structures with 1,134 spots and commercial, retail and office space. A pedestrian plaza serving as a public space would cut through the new development, featuring four- and five-story structures.

The WonderBlock space sits off the north side of 26th Street between Lincoln and Grant avenues, where the old Hostess bakery used to be located. The aim is to enhance the drawing power of the area around Historic 25th Street and create more living spaces in the city center to bolster the vibrancy of the zone.

“We’re talking about more than just building buildings,” said Brandon Cooper, head of Ogden’s Community and Economic Development Department. He called it “a generational opportunity — we have a big vision for Ogden.”

Significantly, paid parking in the downtown area would be implemented as part of the project. The WonderBlock plans, among other elements of Make Ogden, are expected to boost traffic and demand for parking, hence the changeover.

City officials publicly unveiled the plans on Nov. 2. Here are some points that emerged at Tuesday’s gathering:

  • The proposed grocery story would sit on the ground floor of a building at the northeast corner of 26th Street and Grant Avenue, with apartments above it.
  • The pedestrian plaza, going north and south from 25th to 26th streets, is a “critical” element of the plans as it would serve as a common gathering space for public activities, Cooper said.
  • The boutique hotel would be built on the south side of 25th Street in the space where a parking lot is now located, just west of Roosters Brewing Co. The rear of the hotel would back into the WonderBlock development.
  • A display board shows paid parking would first be implemented on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th streets roughly between Wall Avenue and Washington Boulevard and along Washington Boulevard and Grant and Lincoln Avenues roughly from 22nd to 26th streets. That would come within a year or so, according to Sara Meess, division manager in the Community and Economic Development Department.
  • The two new parking garages in the WonderBlock footprint, among the first elements of the project, would be built in two to three years. Cooper said the public frequently asks how parking is to be accommodated in the city center with all the proposed Make Ogden changes. The garages are part of the solution.
  • Paid parking would eventually expand to the area largely between Adams and Wall avenues going east and west and 20th to 26th streets going north and south, according to a display board.

‘A LITTLE SCARY’

Ogden City Councilperson Marcia White has heard a mix of views, she said at Tuesday’s open house.

“They’re a little bit more mad about the parking piece,” she said, specifically the specter of having to pay to park. “I haven’t heard anything negative except from the people who don’t want change.”

In her view, without increased housing in the city center, as proposed, the area won’t generate the sort of vibrancy sought by some boosters. “From a planning standpoint, I think they’ve done a really good job,” she said.

City Councilperson Ken Richey thinks of the long-term benefits of thinking big, as contemplated with the WonderBlock scheme. “It’s a little scary to be thinking about all these things all together,” he said, alluding to the many elements of the proposal. “But it’s also kind of exciting.”

As for financing, one of the two city bonds would total between $64 million and $75 million, with the funds to be used to help with the WonderBlock residential, commercial and retail development. The project developer, J. Fisher Companies, would pitch in $124 million.

The second bond would total between $53.5 million and $85 million, covering the cost of the two new parking structures and the shift to paid parking elswhere around downtown Ogden.

The bonds would be paid back over a period of 37 to 40 years. Tax-increment finance revenue and lease-revenue funds from Business Depot Ogden operations would cover the cost of the WonderBlock bonds, backed, if necessary, by sales tax revenue. Parking fees would be tapped to pay for the parking bonds.

At the Jan. 10 hearing, city officials would formally take input from the public on the bond questions, potentially taking final action on whether to move forward with them that same day.

Janene Eller-Smith, executive director of the City Council, said officials are contemplating another public event to get word out about the WonderBlock plans.

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