Ogden leaders unveil WonderBlock redevelopment plan, propose paid parking
OGDEN — Big change is proposed for downtown Ogden — development of the largely vacant swath of property called the WonderBlock and a shift to paid parking throughout the city center.
The administration of Mayor Mike Caldwell, working with WonderBlock developer J.F. Capital, has crafted a plan for the WonderBlock area calling for a mix of apartments, commercial space, retail space, a grocery store, a boutique hotel and two multilevel parking structures. The 5.9-acre WonderBlock area — long a focus of debate among city leaders — is the open piece of property off the north side of 26th Street between Grant and Lincoln avenues where a Hostess production facility once sat.
Parallel to that, the administration — which publicly unveiled plan details on Wednesday — is proposing a shift away from free parking to paid parking in the downtown area, in part to generate the revenue stream to maintain the parking infrastructure in the area over time. The move to paid parking, both on streets and in parking structures, has been an ongoing focus of debate and discussion among city officials.
The project’s scale is massive, at least for Ogden. “Probably the largest project in the downtown in a generation,” said Brandon Cooper, head of Ogden’s Community and Economic Development Department.
But it doesn’t come without cost — the city is proposing issuance of two bonds to help pay for the plans. “It’s a public-private partnership,” Cooper said.
One bond would total around $64 million and the money would help cover the WonderBlock development, which has a price tag of $188 million. J.F. Capital, based in Centerville, would pitch in the rest, around $124 million.
The second bond would total around $53.5 million. That money would be used to build the two proposed parking facilities in the WonderBlock development and to help with the infrastructural changes needed to shift to paid parking in the downtown area.
The Ogden City Council, acting in its varied capacities as redevelopment officials and city legislators, would have to approve the bonds, with action preliminarily scheduled for Jan. 10. First, though, city leaders want feedback from the public, and Ben Nadolski, the City Council chairperson, announced at Tuesday’s council meeting that officials would hold a meeting on Nov. 15 to give the public a chance to learn more about the plans.
“We’re not going to rush through anything. Like I say, this is going to take a couple months,” he said, providing only a few general details about the plans. “But the transparency and communication starts tonight.”
The Nov. 15 meeting starts at 4 p.m. and will be held at council chambers in the Ogden Municipal Building at 2459 Washington Blvd.
Notably, neither of the bonds would require a boost in property taxes for repayment over their 35-year terms.
The WonderBlock bond would be paid with lease-revenue funds the city gets from operation of Business Depot Ogden and tax-increment financing, or TIF, funds. The TIF money represents funds that the property owner would otherwise pay as property taxes on the development’s increased value to the city, Weber County and the Ogden School District.
The parking bonds would be paid through fees generated by the shift to paid parking.
THE WONDERBLOCK VISION
As proposed, the WonderBlock plans represent a big new push to develop Ogden’s downtown area. They fall within the parameters of Make Ogden, the ambitous plan approved in 2020 to overhaul, upgrade and revamp much of the downtown area of Ogden, from Union Station east past Washington Boulevard and from the Ogden River south roughly to 27th Street.
Cooper said the last large downtown project approaching the scale of the WonderBlock plans was perhaps The Junction project. That entailed creation of the entertainment area that encompasses the Megaplex Theater, the Salomon Center with its varied entertainment options, including Fat Cats, numerous restaurants and more around 23rd Street and Grant Avenue.
Indeed, the WonderBlock area is now an empty plot and, before that, was home to the idle factory where Twinkies were made until Hostess declared bankruptcy in 2012. The building was razed in 2018.
Renderings of the vision show the area filled with four- and five-story buildings with a walkway extending north and south from 26th Street to 25th Street. The new development would bump up against the southern and western sides of the 2nd District Court building property at 2525 Grant Ave. and the back of several businesses fronting Historic 25th Street, including Lucky Slice Pizza and Alleged, a club.
The WonderBlock development “will be a combination of residential dwellings, retail, office services, food and beverage, as well as hospitality,” Cooper said in a statement. “All of the project elements will be connected via attractive public spaces that will support special events, creating a unique sense of place that will draw people throughout the region to our awesome downtown.”
More specifically, the city said in a statement, the elements of the WonderBlock development include:
- 354 market-rate apartments “featuring high-quality amenities” and within walking distance of arts and cultural events.
- 100,000 square feet of commercial office space.
- 50,000 square feet of retail store space.
- A 20,000-square-foot grocery.
- A “boutique hotel” fronting 25th Street.
- Pedestrian pathways, including spaces meant for outdoor activities.
The two parking garages, a four-story and a three-story structure, would have 1,134 parking spots between them. They would sit in the middle of the WonderBlock.
Without city involvement, notably the bond financing, city officials suspect the WonderBlock land would eventually be turned into apartments and other high-density housing by the private sector. However, the development would likely lack the quality and fluourishes that are proposed, which are meant to serve as a catalyst to continued high-caliber growth.
If city leaders approve the bonds in January, Cooper says work on the WonderBlock project could begin by next June. The parking structures would be the first elements to be built and the entire development could take shape over perhaps three years, he estimates.
The shift to paid parking, if the city ultimately goes that route, would be phased in over two to three years, according to David Sawyer, deputy of Ogden’s Business Development Office. The area envisioned as a paid-parking zone goes from 26th Street north to around the Ogden River and from Wall Avenue east to Adams Avenue.
The city hired a consultant in crafting the proposed shift to paid parking. A study that came out of the efforts showed parking is strained along 25th Street and Kiesel Avenue in The Junction area. Moreover, with projected new development, parking capacity “will be completely overwhelmed” as new housing and businesses take shape, bringing more people to the city center, the city said in a statement.