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Union Station redevelopment edges ahead, firms picked to lead planning

By Tim Vandenack - | Feb 23, 2023
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Ogden's Union Station is pictured Wednesday, June 17, 2020.
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This image shows the area of focus of the Union Station campus redevelopment plans in Ogden.
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Union Station in downtown Ogden is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.
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Union Station in downtown Ogden is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

OGDEN — Ambitious plans to reimagine and redevelop a nearly 30-acre downtown Ogden swath encompassing Union Station are out of the starting block.

McWhinney of Loveland, Colorado, and J. Fisher Cos. of Centerville, have been picked to draw up the development scheme for the 29.6-acre piece of property, which sits on the west side of Wall Avenue, extending from 22nd Street south to 27th Street. Ogden City and Utah Transit Authority, between them, own the land or are in the process of acquiring portions of it, and the city announced the selection of the two firms on Wednesday.

“First step, yes,” said Damen Burnham, redevelopment manager for the Ogden Community and Economic Development Department.

But there’s been plenty of talk about the plans, which call for rehabilitation of the Union Station building and other adjacent structures, new development and, broadly speaking, conversion of the expansive area into a bustling residential, commercial and social hub. A new 115,000-square-foot museum south of Union Station is envisioned, housing museum collections now contained inside the old train station.

“This campus will offer a broad range of commercial uses, with the Union Station Museum serving as an anchor,” the city said in a statement Wednesday. The museum will serve “as a nucleus of the site and provide engaging and inclusive art, culture and educational visitor experiences.”

The future of Union Station has become a bitter focus of debate in recent months, with some museum advocates worried the city isn’t fully committed to maintaining the museums over the long haul, charges city leaders rebuff. Either way, Steve Jones, among the museum advocates and part of an informal Facebook group called Save Union Station, says he’ll be keeping tabs as the development plans come together.

“We’re going to be listening very closely,” he said.

Among his big interests, Jones said, are maintaining Union Station and two other nearby historic structures — the laundry building, where Union Pacific employees’ garb was laundered in years past, and the trainman’s building, just north of the main station. He’s leery of adding a “new modernistic building” to the campus, saying it would detract from the historic ambiance of the area.

The Utah Transit Authority, owner of 17 acres on the north end of the project area, is a key player in the plans as part of its efforts to spur creation of transit-oriented developments, or TODs, along its FrontRunner line. The Ogden FrontRunner station is within the project footprint, as is the planned station on the northern endpoint of the UTA bus rapid transit system now taking shape in the city.

TODs are development schemes meant to cluster residential and commercial offerings around a transit hub, and new housing is a key element of the Union Station plans. “With the UTA FrontRunner as its transportation link to the Wasatch Front, Union Station will offer a broad range of uses including office, restaurant, retail, hospitality, meeting/event and various other commercial uses,” reads a visioning document.

The Union Station redevelopment plans are outlined in Make Ogden, the downtown Ogden planning document that also gave rise to the WonderBlock project. WonderBlock plans call for redevelopment of the open space on the north side of 26th Street between Lincoln and Grant avenues.

The Union Station redevelopment planning effort could take one to two years given the broad scope, Burnham estimates, with actual construction following that. Officials have said the project could take a decade to fully develop and would likely involve the private sector.

Cost estimates will emerge when planning efforts by McWhinney and J. Fisher Cos. are complete. They’ll potentially be aided by Mortenson Construction of Salt Lake City and Design Workshop, a planning and architecture firm.

“Given the initial stages of the planning process, the overall cost of the project has not been identified,” Burnham said.

Among other things, the FrontRunner platform would be moved to the rear of Union Station, according to the preliminary development framework, finalized last April. A parking structure with at least 300 spaces is also envisioned along with public open spaces and commercial, office and residential development.

“Both the (Union Station) building and surrounding campus are ripe for re-use and development, with the potential of recreating the energy and vitality that put Ogden on the map at the turn of the century,” reads the initial planning document.

J. Fisher Cos. is the lead developer with the city on the WonderBlock project and also has a secondary role in development of the ex-Rite Aid site in the city.

McWhinney and J. Fisher “were selected through a rigorous public procurement process,” Burnham said. “Over 1,700 independent developers were notified of the project solicitation, most of them local to the state of Utah.”

The McWhinney-J. Fisher proposal was one of three finalists and was ultimately selected by a panel made up of Ogden and UTA staff using a predetermined scoring matrix.

The McWhinney-J. Fishter team have an “exclusive negotiation agreement” with Ogden and UTA, Burnham said. “That sets out the path for planning and to potentially reach a development agreement. Once we have a master plan and understand how to finance and implement that plan, then development would begin with this developer,” he said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct the last name of one of the museum advocates cited, Steve Jones.


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