OGDEN —Thaine Fischer isn’t your typical developer.
The Montana native turned diehard Ogden loyalist is in the midst of a $14 million overhaul of the 57,000-square-foot garage immediately east of The Bigelow Hotel.
The Montana native turned diehard Ogden loyalist purchased the building — vacant for more than a decade — and renamed it “The Monarch.” His plan for the structure involves a complete renovation, including new space for restaurants, retail and event space, exhibit and collaborative space, and design studios.
It could be argued the facelift of the 90-year-old Monarch is the most ambitious of Fischer’s redevelopment ventures, the embodiment of his passion for Ogden and its historic architecture.
Fischer moved to Ogden from Arizona in 2006. In that time he’s left a pretty significant imprint on the city’s downtown, restoring and modernizing several old and usually vacant buildings.
“I love architecture — that was one of the main reasons why we moved to Ogden,” said Fischer, who lives in the city with his wife and two daughters. “It had a really cool, hip, urban downtown with a lot of old buildings that I felt could be renovated.”
The buildings that house Harley and Buck’s, Even Stevens, Office Evolution, Pig & A Jelly Jar and the Star Noodle Parlor building (now home to Zucca Ristorante) with its iconic neon dragon sign, are among Fischer’s projects.
“I call it my fish bowl,” he said. “We don’t do anything we can’t walk to. Everything we’ve done is right there in the downtown urban core.”
The redevelopment method varies from building to building, but typically Fischer tries to keep exterior features intact. If there are elements inside of a building that are interesting or that have historical significance, those are kept, too.
Among the most interesting finds from Fischer’s historic building exploits — a small movie theater in the old Star Noodle building (during the renovation, Fischer left the camera room intact) and a hidden room at Harley & Bucks, which had been covered by drywall.
Fischer works to get his buildings placed on the federal historical register. Once that’s accomplished, the National Parks Service oversees proposed renovations.
He often goes after federal tax credits available for historic renovations and investment in distressed communities. For The Monarch, he will receive tax increment revenue from Ogden City — a first for Fischer’s rehab projects.
As part of the agreement, the city will provide Fischer all of the new tax revenue generated by the project over a 25-year period.
The practice, known as “Tax Increment Financing,” gives new tax revenue back to developers as an incentive to build. It can also be used for things like street and utility improvements, hazardous waste removal, property acquisition and the demolition of blighted buildings.
In the arrangement with Fischer, the city will offer a check annually for 25 years beginning in 2021. The money will reimburse Fischer for development expenses and cannot exceed $1.23 million.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell previously told the Standard-Examiner that keeping and rehabilitating historic infrastructure, when possible, is high on the city’s priority because it helps preserve the city’s character and keeps its past alive.
For Fischer, rebuilding is all he’s ever done. He says he’s never built a brand new building, and at least for now, doesn’t plan to change his method of operation.
“It’s not always the most profitable and it hasn’t happened without scars,” he said. “We buy birdcages — because when we buy them they’re typically full of pigeons. But we turn them into hip, cool, urban space. We are proud of the work we do. It’s been a fun niche to carve out.”
The garage rehab is a key component in two different city initiatives, the Adams Community Reinvestment Area and a smaller plan inside of it called the Nine Rails Creative District.
The Adams CRA involves a 150-acre section of Ogden between 23rd and 28th streets from Washington Boulevard to Jefferson Avenue — an area that includes commercial retail and residential buildings, with a significant number of historic properties.
The plan includes approximately $124 million worth of potential construction projects, including The Monarch renovation.
Other projects include renovating the Peery Apartments, the Bigelow Hotel and the old Wells Fargo/First Security Bank building. City officials say revitalizing the area will spur economic growth, bring jobs and connect the downtown central business district with neighborhoods to the east.
The Nine Rails district would create a centralized hub for arts and culture where artists and other creatives can live and work and where visitors can explore.