OGDEN — The Ogden urban gondola concept, which deeply divided the community a decade ago, lives on in the pages of a $187,500 Weber County economic development plan delivered in 2017.
Reviving the gondola project is one of several key proposals in consultant Stuart Reid’s Weber County Prosperity Plan, submitted to the county commission. The Standard-Examiner obtained a copy of the 32-page report with a public records request.
Reid’s plan, commissioned in 2015, also calls for the creation of a second urban center west of Interstate 15 to better harness development in the western end of the county.
He further recommended moving the Weber County Fair to a new rurally-headquartered life sciences cluster; expanding Business Depot Ogden’s long-term development into the former fairgrounds area; strengthening the Ogden City urban core and Weber State University; and attuning the Ogden Valley to high-technology mountain living.
But the commission apparently did not publicize Reid’s report and since then has launched into a different economic development project, announced in April.
That 2018 Weber County Strategic Economic Development Plan focuses on prosperity through higher incomes; attracting high-quality jobs creation; forging regional development partnerships; and building up the advanced manufacturing, life sciences, defense and outdoor products sectors.
The more recent plan was fueled in part by a second wave of consultant contracts, chiefly a $100,000 deal with PGCC Strategies of Bountiful. Including the Reid contract, the county has inked economic development and public relations contracts totaling about $500,000 since 2015.
OGDEN ‘NEEDS A DESTINATION’
Reid was an economic development leader for then-Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey until 2006, when talk about building an urban gondola system was increasing.
The gondola was proposed to run from Ogden’s Intermodal Transit Center to the foothills near Weber State, then link to private land at Malan’s Basin. Advocates hoped it also could extend to Snowbasin.
While business and tourism supporters lined up behind the plan, vehement opposition developed and the project eventually went nowhere during Godrey’s administration. Critics fought the endeavor on environmental, aesthetic and other grounds.
In an interview, Reid said he included the gondola in his recent plan because “it will provide an economic boom for the future of this county unlike any other program of prosperity.”
His report said, “This is an audacious project that will help meet the objective to strengthen the urban core by dramatically increasing the visitor population as well as the workforce.”
The report said the gondola “will spawn the construction of more hotels, restaurants, and entertainment outlets in the urban core than could have ever been expected.”
High-quality multiunit housing and rehabilitation of housing in the urban core would follow, the report said.
But Reid granted that a gondola “will only happen if there’s the political will to do it,” combining efforts by the county, the city, Snowbasin and others.
County Commissioner James Ebert agreed with the idea that Ogden “needs to be a destination,” and a gondola would be a unique attraction.
“But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a gondola,” Ebert said. “Maybe we can create a cultural attraction … the arts, a symphony, a creative community — branding to put Ogden City on the map.”
Mayor Mike Caldwell, who is backing the county’s current economic development plan, isn’t enthusiastic about a gondola revival, especially because much of the land involved is owned either by a private property holder or Weber County.
“In my opinion, this kind of thing is dead,” Caldwell said.
Commissioner Jim Harvey distanced himself from the Reid contract.
“The gondola, a lot of that information I haven’t given a lot more thought,” Harvey said. “The Stuart Reid contract was done long before I was there.”
Harvey, who was elected in 2016, said he questioned the value of the Reid contract when he took office.
“Because I didn’t see the same value that they did when they originally made the contract, I wasn’t in favor of perpetuating it,” Harvey said.
The PGCC-driven current plan “is the right direction,” Harvey said.
“I’m convinced the proper investment will yield a return many times over that investment which mitigates tax increases and could possibly even decrease taxes in the future,” Harvey said. “That’s my ultimate goal.”
Asked about the Reid arrangement, Ebert said, “(Commissioner) Kerry Gibson contracted with Stuart.”
Ebert said “Stuart didn’t even have anybody working with him” from county government.
“What we were seeing in Stuart’s plan is more of a community vision,” Ebert said. “That plan was a little more focused on zoning. The PGCC contract is more of an overarching strategy of bringing business focus in on clusters. Both have certain value.”
Reid pointed out that the commission’s current efforts to fight intergenerational poverty arose from recommendations in his report.
He also had a different view of how his project was carried out.
“It was a two-year process,” he said. “It wasn’t just a plan. It was weekly, if not about every other day, meeting and training on different parts of the plan.”
Reid said Ebert was “very involved from the very beginning” and implemented intergenerational poverty proposals, among others.
“What they do with it from here on out is really their business and not mine,” he said.
Reid said he interviewed business leaders, members of the public and Weber County’s mayors in formulating his proposals.
While Gibson signed the Reid contract, as the commission chairman at the time, Ebert and then-Commissioner Matthew Bell also spoke enthusiastically about the contract when it was approved, according to the Jan. 13, 2015, meeting minutes.
Efforts to contact Gibson were unsuccessful.
DANGER OF WESTERN SPRAWL
Reid spoke strongly of the need to rein in sprawl in the western part of the county by designating a site for an urban core there.
“I think if it doesn’t happen, those rural areas will eventually be forced to succumb to urban-suburban sprawl,” Reid said.
“But if planned right, an urban center that is highly dense and also incorporates best development practices, then much of the rural areas can be preserved.”
He said other highly populated counties in Utah have developed multiple urban centers, but Weber County has only Ogden.
If the county doesn’t do the planning now, developers will do it, he said.
Reid, a former state senator, said his plan is “not for the faint of heart. It requires tenacity and audacity to secure a prosperous future for all the citizens of the county.”