OGDEN — A potential alternative has emerged to plans to tear down the historic but badly deteriorated Swift building, currently the site of a major environmental cleanup.
An Ogden entrepreneur is proposing that the building be saved and transformed into an arts and entertainment venue.
City council members heard a proposal for an “Ogden Exploratorium” during a work session Wednesday, although it may be unlikely to derail a plan already on the table to demolish the building and sell the land to an aerospace manufacturer.
Anthony Marler spoke of his vision to transform the century-old former meatpacking plant into a creative art venue containing interactive exhibits and a “quiet zone” museum dedicated to the site’s history and the Ogden stockyards.
The concept also would feature a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the Weber River; a boathouse and parking for the adjacent Ogden Kayak Park; and a community events center.
Brandon Cooper, Ogden City’s community and economic development deputy director, said Marler approached the city several months ago with the idea. At the time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had begun cleanup of toxic chemicals and other detritus in the Swift building, which had been converted into a storage warehouse.
Cooper described Marler’s project as an alternative to demolition and a property sale that has been under consideration by the economic development staff since February.
But to delay the sale for about six months to give Marler time to conduct a feasibility study of his project probably would kill the aerospace development option, Cooper said.
A feasibility review would include architectural and structural engineering studies and examination of financing options.
Cooper said he asked the aerospace project developers, Atwater Infrastructure Partners of Pasadena, California, if they would agree to put their plan on hold so the Exploratorium could be evaluated.
“Atwater said no,” Cooper said, so the council effectively must decide now which project it favors.
The city council is expected to consider the Atwater deal at its next meeting, on Tuesday.
Cooper said the city had explored various scenarios. A project like Atwater’s made the most economic sense.
Anything short of demolishing and selling the property “would not pencil,” he said. “It would require city subsidy. ... You can do lots of things with money.”
The city has been conscious of Swift’s and the stockyards’ role in Ogden’s history, Cooper said, and officials have looked for ways to preserve some of it during the various projects in the redevelopment area.
The Exploratorium would incorporate some of that, while in the Atwater plan, the developer would try to preserve the Swift smokestack and use architectural designs evoking the Swift building.
The EPA cleanup project is expected to conclude by November, according to city documents. EPA teams have scoured the old warehouse, processing more than 98,000 containers.
More than 19,000 containers of potentially volatile materials were treated, while 60,000 containers were removed from the site and 20,000 empty containers also were removed, according to the EPA project website.
The city’s proposed contract with Atwater still needs city council approval. It has been presented to the council now that the cleanup is nearly finished. New construction on the reclaimed site could begin by March, city documents said.
The city bought the site from Utah-Smith, an entity connected to the late Bert Smith, founder of Smith and Edwards Co., for $400,000.
Officials said buying the building and getting the EPA involved was the best way to start reclaiming the site. Other expenses include demolition, currently estimated at $1.5 million, plus $1 million for road development around the reclaimed site.
The EPA is covering the estimated $1.7 million cleanup and says it will consider seeking compensation from other entities responsible for the waste.
Under the proposed contract, Atwater would buy the property from the city for $1.7 million. Cooper said the company plans to build a 120,000-square-foot plant where it will manufacture products for the aerospace and defense industries.