Thursday, May 29, 2008

Decision Time Looms for the Ogden Ice Tower

Further analysis of the proposed Ice Tower Project

By Dan Schroeder

If I'm not mistaken, the city council will be voting this Tuesday on whether to provide $200,000 in funding for the proposed ice tower. Since taxpayers are being asked to fork over a substantial amount of money for this project, and since I'm a taxpayer, I decided to try to learn more about it.

Now, I could have asked the city for information, but my past experience is that the city doesn't always cooperate with such requests. So I decided instead to go to the county, which has all the paperwork for the two ice tower RAMP applications. Guess what? I didn't even have to file a GRAMA request. The county gladly provided me with copies of all the documents, free of charge.

Most of what I obtained is linked here:
First ice tower RAMP application, January 2007
Progress report, December 2007
Letter from John Patterson, undated
Second ice tower RAMP application, January 2008
(To keep the file sizes under control, I've omitted the application cover sheets and many pages of relatively uninteresting attachments including illustrations, letters of support, documentation of the tax-exempt status of the nonprofit organization that would operate the facility, and a now-obsolete lease agreement for use of the Big D Sports Park.)

As has already been reported in the press, each RAMP application was for $200,000. The 2007 application was approved, with the understanding that the tower would be located at the Big D Sports Park. The RAMP authorities later approved an extension on this grant into 2008, as well as a modification to reflect the change in location to downtown Ogden. The 2008 RAMP application was turned down, and that's apparently why the administration is now asking the council for $200,000.

These documents should be read in conjunction with the very informative fundraising brochure that was posted here last Friday. The additional information in the RAMP documents includes the following:
• To fund the remainder of the ice tower construction costs, the city is apparently counting on major grants from the G.S. and D.D. Eccles Foundation ($400,000), the Land and Water Conservation Fund ($200,000), and the Swanson Foundation ($100,000), as well as smaller contributions from a number of private companies including Petzl, Black Diamond, Pyramide, Lowe Alpine, Cassar Jewelers, and Bank of Utah. The likelihood of actually obtaining these grants and contributions is unclear.

• The city has already spent over $30,000 for architecture, engineering, property appraisal, and advertising. Most of these expenses were initially charged against the 2007 RAMP grant, but the city was then informed that the RAMP grant could be used only for actual construction expenses, not development. Apparently this mistake has now been corrected, presumably by shifting money over from private contributions. But the details are murky.

• There's a bit more information about the nonprofit that would operate the ice tower. It is known to the IRS as Ogdens Hollographic Ice Tower Inc. (OHIT), but is now doing business as Ogden Climbing Parks. In January 2007 its board of directors had only three members: Jeff Lowe, Michal (or Michale) Glassman, and Chris Ford. (Interestingly, Glassman is listed as a WSU "professor" in the 2007 application but as a "developer" in the 2008 application. I can find no Glassman, with any first name, listed as an instructor in the WSU class schedules for 2006 or 2007. If anyone knows who this person is, please enlighten me!) By January 2008, four more board members had been added: Abraham Shreve (of Envision Ogden fame), Deanna Byck, Michael Beck, and Brad Roghaar.

• OHIT/OCP claims to have raised approximately $120,000 in "cash contributions and sponsorships" in the year prior to January 2008.
Through corresponding with the county regarding these documents, I also learned a bit more. RAMP can provide funding either to government entities or to nonprofit organizations. However, nonprofits cannot obtain RAMP funding for capital assets because there would be no way of stopping them from then selling those assets. That's why, in order to be eligible for RAMP funding, the city (rather than OHIT/OCP) must own the ice tower. Also, it is the county's understanding that the city (as owner of the facility) is making a commitment to maintain it "in perpetuity".

Unfortunately, there are still many questions that these documents do not answer:
• What evidence is there that the projected $300,000 in annual income, needed to cover operating costs, will materialize?

• What happens if there is a revenue shortfall?

• What are the provisions for renting equipment and providing instruction to users? (The four employees do not appear to include any climbing instructors, yet most users will undoubtedly need lessons.)

• How will the outreach activities, for at-risk youth and the disabled, actually work? Will these groups displace paying customers at certain times, and who will pay the staff needed to assist them and ensure that they can use the facility safely? What evidence is there that these groups are interested in using the facility? What level of physical ability is required to attempt ice climbing?

• Why is the tower to be located on 25th Street, surrounded by government and office buildings, rather than near the Salomon Center where there could be more synergistic activity? Where will users go for snacks? What will the rest of a family do while one member gets an ice climbing lesson?
As you can probably tell, I'm pretty skeptical about this project. While it seems from examples elsewhere that artificial ice climbing walls can be successful, it isn't clear that this particular project has the necessary ingredients for success. If it were 100% privately funded, of course, I'd have no objection whatsoever. Even some level of one-time public funding would be ok with me, if we could be sure that the facility would pay its own operating expenses over the long term. But I see no such assurance whatsoever. In fact, it seems likely that this $200,000 request will actually be made on an annual basis, indefinitely.

27 comments:

Jason W. said...

I am glad to learn that the "Hollowgraphic Ice Tower" will be a community icon, much like the Space Needle in Seattle, but "right hear in urban Ogden." Fantastic! Apparently, it will be unique and one-of-a-kind -- kind of like THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE's little bird, a bird that sings the song of hope, only in Ogden -- and will draw 50% of the population as users and "insure" our reputation as a High Adventure mecca. I am also keen to find out our city's grant writers are illiterate.

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

Little Bird said...

Sorry to change the subject, but a friend of mine just told me that just south of Taylor Canyon between the high and low trail there is a BIG road cutter and a bulldozer putting in a bunch of switchbacks. Does anybody have any information on this????

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

Once again, thank you for doing the spadework and getting the facts. Now if only Ogden City would adopt your radical "facts first, decisions second" method of reaching decisions....

Little Bird said...

Nevermind; I found my own answer and will share what I found in case anybody else was concerned. I just got off the phone with a Kim Wallace whom is a city engineer. He told me that this is part of the water system project of Ogden city. The road is an access road and is as high up in the Canyon as it will go and at this point. They are going to bury a water tank and then reseed the dirt covering the tank. Today they are doing seismic tests to determine the safety of this tank. The road will unfortunately stay so they can access the tank for maintenance and emergency reasons for the next 10-20 years.

Curmudgeon said...

In Dan S. excellent piece on the ice tower's prospects and status, he wrote this:

• The city has already spent over $30,000 for architecture, engineering, property appraisal, and advertising. Most of these expenses were initially charged against the 2007 RAMP grant, but the city was then informed that the RAMP grant could be used only for actual construction expenses, not development. Apparently this mistake has now been corrected, presumably by shifting money over from private contributions. But the details are murky.

This is, it seems, sadly typical of the Godfrey administration's failure to do its homework on grants. It didn't even bother to find out what the City could use the money for and what it couldn't. That is the kind of elementary prep work any competent grants person would take care of at the outset. It's practically step one. Except for the Godfrey administration, of course.

And we've seen this before. Recall how the administration wanted UTA to launder the city's paying a consultant to vet the Peterson Proposal by doing what UTA could not do under the terms of the federal grant involved --- and how it tried to hide its actions from the press and from the public. And recall how the Godfrey Administration tried to use revenues from BDO for the Rec Center's construction, when use of those funds in that way was specifically banned by the agreement with the Army that transferred the depot to Ogden City for development. Recall that the Army had to threaten to sue to get the Administration to return the money to BDO for proper use there.

The Mayor just does not do his homework. How the hell could his Administration apply for and accept a $200K RAMP tax grant without bothering to understand what the money could and could not be used for? [We will pass over in tactful silence the question of why the County awarded $200K in public money to a Mayor who didn't understand what he could legally use it for.]

If the Godfrey Administration approached the rest of its projected ice-tower funding in the same slipshod way... and we have no reason to think it didn't... then Dan S. is right that it will be coming back for more money, year after year after year.

Note that even if all the foundation and other private money comes in exactly as hoped, taxpayers will still have shelled out if the Council approves this latest request, $400,000 on what was originally touted as a privately funded project. [Sound familiar? It should. Remember, the flatland gondola was going to be entirely privately funded when first proposed too... until it wasn't.]

The Council should reject the additional funding, and the project should not go forward at all unless and until (1) sufficient private funding has been obtained [not "projected," "expected," "anticipated," or "hoped-for,"] to complete construction, and to insure a reasonable probability of bringing in revenues sufficient to operate and maintain it. And the builders should be required to post a bond guaranteeing sufficient funds to pay the the costs of removing the facility if it fails to sustain itself.

But no more tax money for construction, maintenance or operation. For a project this speculative, $200K of public money is enough.

John Spencer said...

Since the original 2007 RAMP grant hasn't been funded yet, I'll suggest that all Weber County citizens who object to the public subsidy of this ill conceived project call their Weber County Commissioners and urge them to torpedo (rescind) the still unspent 2007 funding.

How the RAMP Fund committee members were ever persuaded to allocate $200K of public money to this hare-brained project in 2007 is a mystery to me.

There's still time for the taxpayers to cut their losses.

dan s. said...

As I said in the article, I don't really object to one-time taxpayer funding to get this project started. The RAMP committee presumably had the same attitude. They know that if continuing operating subsidies are required, they won't be the ones responsible. In fact, it's my understanding that RAMP policies prohibit grants for operating expenses.

The city is another matter. With or without the additional $200k that the mayor is asking for now, the city has already, in submitting its original RAMP application, made an implicit commitment to support this project for the long term. To what extent the council participated in that decision I'm not sure, and whether they understood the commitment they were making isn't clear either. But it's quite clear that if they commit another $200k at this time, the commitment will be considerably stronger.

If I may speculate a bit, I'd say that the private donors (Eccles Foundation, etc.) probably have the same attitude as the RAMP committee. They too may be willing to put up some money on a one-time basis, but they want to see a commitment from the city that it will stand behind the project, through good times and bad. The $200k from the council might give them the signal they're waiting for, and that implicit long-term commitment is probably far more important than the $200k itself.

The city council needs to ask Godfrey what happens if the ice tower is built and then there is a shortfall in operating revenue. It would be very interesting to hear his answer.

Jason W. said...

I suspect, beloved Dan S., that Lying Little Matty Gondola Godfrey's answer would be reminiscent of his reply to Monotreme's questions about the hypothetical financial collapse of the Jackass Center: "It won't." And tisk, tisk on that neuroscientist's inability to attend crime conferences.

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

Bob Geiger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Monotreme said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david s. said...

I sent in a 3-page document rebutting the mayor's sales pitch regarding the ice tower.

The key issue is the ice tower is a dog of an idea. ESPN dropped it after a couple of years and Lowe hasn't found any interest in it in the 10 years since.

An icon like the Space Needle? It angers me that such stupidity - STUPIDITY - is spending my tax money in this city.

In a few days the city council will show if they are also stupid. A vote for the ice tower will leave them with no redeeming value whatsoever. This is as dumb as the gondola.

The taxpayers will be covering the full cost of this fiasco as well as the annual cost. Godfrey's claims of contributors are not verified, will not be, and may not need to be with this council, in spite of Godfrey shafting the council time and again.

I hate to use the word, "stupid" but this is so incredibly bad. All the funding they have is government with nothing firm from others. The council must begin construction before contributors will come forward, so the Godfrey administration says. Guess who pays if they don't come forward?

Lowe has done next to nothing to raise significant money in 10 years of trying.

If this goes through it may be the end of the road for me in Ogden. Figure you win, Godfrey.

david s. said...

Sorry about the venting.

It's just when I heard Caitlin Gochnour was planning to vote for this I thought, "I put up yard signs for her for this??"

Also, I heard Garcia is thinking about voting for it - planning to trust Godfrey after he has screwed Garcia time and again.

If I'm wrong, I'm sorry. But it was a reliable source. The point is people need to contact their council members and not assume anything.

Bill C. said...

I see Rudi deleted whatever it was short deck had to say, bummer, I've grown to enjoy the stupidity of some of his outbursts. The geigers have become notorious for their promotion of absolute stupidity. I wish short deck would break down the rational expressed as only he could, in fractions, to the twelth decimal. He could base it on worldwide sales of gloves, ropes, cramp-ons, Devo music video sales, whatever he desires. Stupidity to this degree cannot be disguised.
A good friend of mine termed lying little matty's gondola to no where as " a monument to stupidity", I think this artificial icecicle may rival or even surpass it.

Curmudgeon said...

David S:

I too would be disappointed if Councilwoman Gouchnor, on the basis of what we know of the Ice Tower plan so far, voted to spend an additional 200K in Ogden City funds to support it. She was one who had asked to see a business plan for the operation of the tower, provided by Climbing Parks of Ogden at work sessions earlier. I would be very disappointed to learn she intended to vote "yea" on the Godfrey proposal if (a)she and the rest of the Council have not received a copy of a business plan and (b) it has not been vetted by a sports venue consultant hired by the council [i.e. who does not answer to the administration or the proposed operators of the tower].

One of the things I expected Gouchnor to bring to the council was sound business judgment and a commitment to insisting that the City do the necessary research before making expensive decisions with financial consequences stretching years ahead. She certainly talked that way during the campaign.

Perhaps all the necessary spadework has been done and provided to the Council, but if so, neither the press nor the public seems to know it.

The new members were not on the Council when Godfrey assured the Council that bonds for the Rec Center could be sold without the city guaranteeing payment... only to have him return and tell the council they could not be sold unless the city guaranteed payment. But then assuring the Council that the City absolutely would not actually have to pay on the construction bonds. Which of course the Council and city began doing just recently.

And the new councilors were not in office when the Mayor promised that the gondola would be built entirely with private funds, only to renege on that promise later, saying the city would have to pay for one third of its construction.

The Mayor, when he gets enthusiastic about something, tends to promise the sun, the moon and the sky in his enthusiasm, without actually doing the necessary research first to support his claims. In campaigning for Gouchnor and some of the others who ran again this time, I thought I was campaigning for people who would insist, for the good of the city, that --- especially when the Mayor was in the grip of his enthusiasm du jour--- the research and vetting come first, before decisions were taken.

If the Councilors have not received a business plan for operating, maintaining and sustaining the tower and had it vetted by a sports venue consultant who is not being paid by the Administration or Climbing Parks of Ogden, than an alternative to voting "nay" would be to delay any action until the necessary documents have been submitted, and the necessary vetting has been done.

dan s. said...

Curm,

I strongly suspect that any "business plan" for the ice tower that the council might have received is essentially the same as what's in the RAMP applications. So now that those are posted here, we should all have more or less the same information.

The problem is that nobody knows how to predict how much interest this thing will actually be able to generate. And therefore, nobody knows how to predict the number of paying users, or the revenue from events and grants.

When I ask climbers to make their best guess, they generally try to compare it to a climbing gym and the comparison doesn't come out very good because (a) a lot more people are into rock climbing than ice climbing; (b) the equipment and safety issues will make ice climbing inherently more expensive; and (c) there's less variety (fewer "problems to solve") in ice climbing so there will be fewer repeat customers.

Another approach is to look at the existing commercial ice climbing walls and see how much use they get, then try to extrapolate to our situation. But if the best comparison is the one in Scotland, the extrapolation will be pretty difficult because (a) we're in a much more heavily populated area; but (b) our ice climbing tower would be a stand-alone facility, with no other recreational attractions or even food/drink vendors in the immediate vicinity; and (c) ours would be run as a government/nonprofit endeavor, by people who don't seem to have a lot of business experience. So it's really hard to compare.

One bit of homework that someone should do is to contact the Eccles Foundation and the others who are being asked for contributions, and ask them how likely it is that they'll actually fork over the amount being requested.

Jeff L said...

Dan's posts are inciteful and good, so far as they go; with the information he has. I'd be happy to try to answer the questions raised and fill in the blanks--in Dan's post and previous ones on this forum--if you folks would care to have my input.

Any takers?

Your friend and neighbor,

Jeff Lowe

PS. please stop calling me names. You're hurting my feelings!

PPS. if you answer my offer in the afirmative, I won't get back to you until tomorrow, as I have a life to live tonight. I will also need some direction on how to make an original post on this forum. I'm a little behind the times on this internet stuff.

Jeff l said...

In my previous post, I didn't mean to "incite" a riot of derision regarding my language skills, but rather to praise Dan's good--although limited for lack of information--review.

Jason W. said...

Poor, deluded Lift Ogden YES! souls:

You want us to spend $400K of public dough on something eight people will ever use? Kind of like the one-tenth of one percent of fools traveling to Jackson Hole who will ride THE GONDOLA? Who are you kidding? Me, or just yourselves? Seriously, you Godfreyites need counseling. There's a Viktor Frankl precept known as the "delusion of reprieve." His fellow Jews slated for slaughter always took some hope in any little sign that they wouldn't be gassed; you Godfreyites still think there's a glimmer of hope that Wayne Peterson and his Famed Squirrel Patrol are going to save our town with a sewer-less castle, serviced via shit orbs, and by erecting THE GONDOLA TO NOWHERE. Please, help yourselves. Speak with professionals. Get medication.

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

caddyhack said...

Dan S.

Thank you for your continuous outstanding work.

I believe the proposed Ice Tower is a monetary boondoggle waiting too happen. But hey, at least a lot of electricity will be wasted and more coal will be burned and more mercury and CO2 will be released....good times.

D H said...

As a newcomer to Ogden, I am somewhere between awe and embarrassment at the ways in which the City is attempting to inject new life/capital into itself. While I agree that creating a spectacle could be a means to achieve this life/capital, I don't think that something that requires as much skill, cost, energy et al, as an ice-tower will do the trick.

And besides, this idea is totally cheesy. Who is going to use it?-gen-exers with time machines?

Jeff l said...

Well, I guess there's no interest from this forum in actually gathering the facts re: the ice tower. Sorry to have upset you with my offer to provide additional information. I am a little surprised to find that even the idea of an open-minded discussion is so painful to some people. I'll let you return to your onanistic spewing to one-another.

As to the assumption that I'm a self-delusional Godfrey/Gondola-ite...not really...at least I'm not delusional in any way. I agree with the idea of promoting Ogden as an adventure recreation mecca, and I see that it's working. A gondola to Snowbasin would probably be a good thing, air-quality wise. It could reduce a lot of traffic up Ogden Canyon, etc. It would be worth a study. As the population of the area grows, air quality will become an ever-growing issue. But as we all know, at this time Snowbasin doesn't seem to want such a connection with Ogden, so the point is moot.

Dan S, and Curmudgeon, you know how to contact me directly if either of you would like to improve your understanding of the tower project. I don't think I'll bother checking back here very often, though. The vibe's just a bit too hostile for my taste.

Jason W. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason W. said...

Another thing, Jeff Godfrey: How do you justify $48K a year? There's nothing for you to do but write typo-ridden letters seeking financial support for your dumbass ice tower. Get a job.

Jason W. said...

Furthermore, Jeffrey Geiger: You make cryptic reference to a GONDOLA connection to Snowbasin "at this time," much like THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE, your onion-reeking buddy who ran around town telling everyone and anyone that Wayne Peterson would inherit Snowbasin and THE GONDOLA would go there. Guess what? It won't. I have a great idea: I want to build a life-size Lying Little Matty Gondola Godfrey bobblehead doll on 30th and Taylor; kids will ride it. There are 5,000 solid bobble-head riders in the area; 50% of OTown will either use the bobblehead of teeny-tiny Matty or watch those who do. Sound familiar, moron?

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

Jason W. said...

P.S., Jeff Fowers: Next time you send out your solicitation, correct Lying Little Matty Gondola Godfrey's letter and your own grant application. If you misspell the very name of your jackassed "project" -- the Hollowgraphic Ice Tower -- how likely is it that foundations will give you money? Moron. Again: $48K a year? For what? Explain yourself, Godfreyite loser.

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

disgusted said...

jeff i
some of us did read your lierature and some of us did pore over your proforma. from a business mans perspective it looked pretty much like a shot from the hip. optimistic projections on revenues and under estimated operating costs.
i dont buy it and i hope the city doesnt either.

disappointed said...

Wow. I am embarrassed to have some of you in the community and I hope your only contribution to the community is confined to posting here.

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