Years later, Weber State eminent domain case still stings for family
OGDEN — Forty-plus years later, after news emerged of plans to build a hotel on a vacant piece of property between the Dee Events Center on the Weber State University campus and Harrison Boulevard, the intense emotions resurfaced.
Jim Alvey and his two siblings grew up in a home that once sat on the property, more recently home to a small grove of trees, part of a disc golf course and a stormwater detention pond. But the Alvey family had to leave in 1976 after the state of Utah, tapping the powers of eminent domain, forced them out as part of Weber State’s plans to build the Dee, the basketball arena that was completed in 1977.
“It was not a fair transaction,” Alvey charged. “It hurt my dad to the day he died.”
The matter had pretty much faded away until 2021, when the younger Alvey and his brother and sister learned of the university’s plans to sell the land so a four-story, 130-room hotel could be developed on it. That irked them — they would have liked first dibs in acquiring the land — and the emotions still simmer, their ire directed at Weber State, the school where all three studied.
“It’s a case of David and Goliath, and Goliath won,” Alvey said. He and brother Bill Alvey received bachelor’s degrees from Weber State and otherwise say good things about the school, while sister Mary Smith studied there, though she didn’t get a degree.
Some may call it the price of progress, an instance of a supposed greater good — the expansion of Weber State — trumping the rights of an individual, the basis for eminent domain, which involves the taking of land, with compensation, by a public entity. But the Alveys feel wronged, don’t like that they were forced out of their home due to the Dee Events Center project and that, in the end, their dad’s land was sold back to private owners, Weber State presumably profiting.
Eminent domain stung back then and still stings today.
Maybe they can’t do anything — and they’re not saying Weber State did anything illegal — but they’ll at least raise their voice over what, for them, was a distasteful turn of events. “Our only recourse is to tell our story and not let people forget,” Alvey said.
Albert and Madge Alvey, the Alvey siblings’ parents, went to court back in 1976 over the amount they were to be compensated for their homestead, ultimately getting around $86,000. They for sure didn’t want to sell, voicing their displeasure to the university and others. But at least they’d try to get the most out of the land that they could.
Today, Jim Alvey shakes his head at the sum, $86,000. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $455,000 by today’s standards. The 2.34 acres where the land sat had an assessed valuation of $585,000 in 2022, according to online Weber County property records.
University officials, meantime, say they have been open about their plans with the 2.34-acre parcel, acquired in late 2021 from the university by a Holladay-based entity called Pillar Investment Group, the motor behind the Marriott International hotel proposal. The land sits in the 4400 block of Harrison Boulevard on the east side of the street, just south of the entry there into the Dee parking lot.
“Yes, when Weber State announced plans in 2019 to sell a portion of that property to a third party, it was with the possibility of a hotel being built on the site,” said Weber State spokesman Bryan Magaña. “We were transparent throughout the process and extended the bid time to give all interested parties an opportunity, following all state and local processes.”
While state law for more recent transactions requires entities that get land via eminent domain to offer it back to the original owners if they decide they don’t need it, that stipulation doesn’t apply to older deals, like the 1976 transaction, according to Alvey. Still, he would’ve liked more transparency from the university, would’ve liked more communication from them about the plans given the special place the space holds in his and his siblings’ hearts.
“It was a great place to live,” Smith said, standing in the Dee Events Center parking lot, then just a wide-open field.
“It was the best place in the world,” added Bill Alvey. Back then, the area was undeveloped and he remembers going after tadpoles in a creek that cut through the land.
The raw feelings notwithstanding, the Alvey siblings are otherwise praiseworthy of Weber State and its role in the community. In fact, President Brad Mortensen and other university officials “have had several interactions” with the Alvey siblings over the property, Magaña said, though Jim Alvey doesn’t think it was enough.
“Jim Alvey is a Weber State alum and has partnered with WSU on various projects throughout the years, and he’s a valued member of the Ogden community,” Magaña said.
Beyond that, Magaña noted the import of the planned hotel to the university and the area.
“Residents have probably seen the landscape changing as they drive along Harrison Boulevard near the Dee Events Center. That’s the first part of our vision coming to life — a space near campus where families, athletes, conference attendees and other travelers can stay,” he said. “We also see it as a resource for loved ones visiting patients at nearby McKay-Dee Hospital and anyone else passing through the city.”
Beyond that, Magaña said university officials are mulling creation of a hospitality program, with the hotel potentially serving students studying the topic.
Jim Alvey, though, still has raw feelings, noting his last glimpse of his home nearly 50 years ago when he headed off to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The home was demolished soon thereafter as part of the Dee project, though the actual events center sits further east.
“I had tears in my eyes going out that dirt road,” Alvey said. “I knew I’d never see my home again.”