Monday, May 05, 2008

Ogden Update: Not Many Signs of Life in Emerald City, Despite the Arrival of FrontRunner

Like Leopold Bloom in Joyce's novel Ulysses, one regular WCF contributor takes a morning walking tour of Ogden; but unlike the the classic Joyce character, on a similar spring morning odyssey in 1904 Dublin, GC finds nothing going in the culturally-sterile MattGodfreyWorld.

By Curmudgeon

Having deposited my faithful '94 Aerostar van for major surgery at a shop on Washington and ridden the 612 downtown, and it being a beautiful spring morning between terms, decided to do a downtown walkabout and see what was happening.

Walking from Washington to Wall, noticed that there are still a lot of storefront shops empty and available for leasing. On every block, north and south sides, of the two blocks of Historic 25th Street. And a block off 25th to the north, a lot more signs up offering office space. [Old Post Office, nearly the entire Berthana block, with the building on the east end offering "office suites starting at $150 a month," high speed internet and all utilities included. Granted, Class A office space it isn't, but still, hardly bespeaks much demand for downtown office space.] And Boyer has signs up for office space in The Junction and the old Well's Fargo building, many floors of it, is available too.

Much has been said over the past years about downtown Ogden taking off "once FrontRunner arrives." FrontRunner has arrived. And the "to let" and "available" signs don't seem to have diminished much.

Looking through the gate at the Union Square Condo development, noticed several "for sale" signs stuck on the lawn of the common area. Not really surprising [people change jobs, lives, move in and out of houses all the time]. But it would be interesting to know if the units are selling reasonably quickly and for a reasonable advance over the original purchase price. I hope they are.

Noticed there is a big advertising billboard up against the east wall of what used to be Star Noodle [available for leasing, renovations promised]. It encourages Ogdenites to enlist in the fight against drunk driving. Unfortunately, the billboard is just behind a large blooming tree, so that all you can see of the sign as you drive down 25th Street are the letters "ving." Maybe it should have admonished Ogdenites to avoid drunk billboard placement.

I walked on to the FrontRunner station, where a school group of about 15 was trying to get ticketed using the one [1] ticketing machine there. I got there about 12 minutes before the train left, and they'd been there for a while already. They didn't make it. Train left with them still trying to buy the last tickets, helped by a kind stranger who missed his train while working the touch screen as the teacher desperately worked the money-slot trying to get the kids on board on time. Two other passengers in line behind the kids also missed the train. The machine seems very slow, had a sign saying it was persnickety about taking credit cards, and to see the UTA service agent in the bus depot if you had trouble. Not good. [One ticketing machine, having trouble with credit cards?]

Park and ride-the-train lot maybe one third full.

Wandered over to the Salomon Center, passed the Great Blank Wall [aka Larry Miller Theater] fronting the main development area. Work is going on at the Earnest Arms building folks were reporting no work at recently. Masons on the scaffolding. Two more buildings going up south and east of Salomon Center.

Strolled over to Great Harvest about ten or so, got coffee and a slice, and staked out one of its two sidewalk tables to watch the street life for a while.... such as it was. Not much. For one five minute stretch about 10:30, I was the only person visible on the street from Great Harvest down to Union Station. For that five minute stretch, Curmudgeon was the street life of downtown Ogden. [Now there's a scary thought.]

The only shop doing much business that I could see was Great Harvest. More or less steady stream of people in and out, getting coffee, bread, etc. Nothing much else happening on the street that I could see.

Note to whoever decides these things: Ogden needs more sidewalk cafes. [Note: sidewalk tables were out at Peddlers/GFC too.] It was pleasant sitting outside Great Harvest of a warm spring morning, sipping coffee, reading a bit. And when you're at a sidewalk table, people seem to say hello and, sometimes, chat for a moment. Perfect strangers. Kind of fun. Be pleasant of a warm spring afternoon to sip a cooling wine or beer at a sidewalk cafe too after a downtown shopping stroll, but I realize in these parts that's a slippery slope on the path to perdition, and [gasp!] the chirrin might see.... Still, hard to sell 25th Street as a happenin' kind of place if not much is happenin' and what might be happenin' is not permitted.

On the whole, so far as I could see, the long-promised arrival of FrontRunner has not yet done much by way of increasing daytime business downtown. It still may, but the promised condos and apartments need to come on line and increase the well-heeled resident population of downtown fairly quickly, seems to me, or the expected boom isn't going to amount to much. There just are not many people on the street downtown--- still weren't at 11 when I caught a bus back up to campus. Hard to do much business when there just isn't much traffic on the street.

PS: on my stroll around downtown Ogden, I kept a sharp eye out for the missing 275 public parking spaces that, we are told, are holding up construction of the Gondola View Five Star Hotel. [I am nothing if not public spirited.] Sadly, I didn't find them.

32 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Well, to be fair, not nothing Just not much, and not, post Frontrunner, what I'd hoped to find.

Molly said...

Sorry to have missed you Curmudgeon!

If I'd known you were patroling the streets, I'd have ditched Bolan for an hour or two.

Keisha said...

What's wrong with you Curm? The crazy Larry Miller's "Jetson's" "Spaced out" design is just what we need in Ogden to offset the very nice and classy design of the new Wells Fargo headqarters on the corner of 24th an Wasnington.

Not.

ted nugent said...

A week. The FR's been running a week.

Reminder: the FR's been running a week.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, the FR's been running for one week.

It takes a heck of a lot more time than one week to draw people to a town like Ogden.

FYI: FR's been running for one week.

Ted

Good Reader said...

Hey, I'm riding the FR out of Ogden next Monday and catching a ride via car back. Having dinner with friends in Salt Lake, when will Gastronomy open a restaurant in O Town????
The new Mexican Restaurant at the Junction isn't open on Sunday. Will Iggy's at the Junction be closed on Sunday too?

Tec Jonson said...

I was going to ride the FrontRunner to the airport for a flight on Sat. Unfortunately the bus to the airport leaves 3 minutes BEFORE the FrontRunner arrives leaving potential airline passengers stranded for an hour waiting for the next bus. So seamless is the transit scene in Utah. I drove to the airport and parked and did not save the 34.00 I'd hoped to. I was not prepared enough to leave another hour earlier in order to make it a transit venture to the airport.

Meanwhile I am ambling about NYC on all sorts of aging transit infrastructure that helped make it the city it is today. Why can't we get one lousy streetcar to cross the city.

Tec Jonson said...

And why can't UTA figure out to jog the airport bus schedule from SLC Central to coincide with Frontrunner stops.

Guess it takes more than the years of planning to get the bugs out.

Tec Jonson said...

Ted Nugent,

Although FR has only been in service a week it's been anticipated for some time and even the meager anticipation had not primed the downtown pumps.

Curmudgeon said...

Ted N:

I know how long it's been running. But I also know developers, builders, business people have known it was coming for I think about three years now. From the discussions I heard, there was some considerable anticipation that building, business openings, etc. would occur in anticipation of Frontrunner's arrival, that things would already be in place [and not just portions of The Junction development]. That seems, so far, not to have occurred.

It still may play out as well or better than anticipated, and I hope it does, but things do seem to be developing, as far as Historic 25th Street is concerned, considerably slower than had been anticipated.

There are a few things the city could do, Ted, that might help. I can think of two in particular, the first a very low cost matter.

1. People are getting off the train, who are not familiar with Ogden, and looking lost, and asking "where do we go now?" They dont' know what is where or even which way to walk once they're off the train, to get there. It might be a very good idea for Ogden to erect a good downtown map, big one, right where people de-train, with a big "you are here" arrow, so they can orient themselves, and figure out which way to go to get to Historic 25th Street or The Junction or the Lesham City area... though why they'd want to go there, I can't imagine. I know, there is the Ogden information site in Union Station, but that's a good walk from the platform, and you have to know it's there. That's one of the things that could be indicated on the map.

2. I wonder if Ogden could have the 603 route between the RR station and say 25th and Washington designated as a "free fare" route [SLC has a much larger free fare zone]. FR tix are good as transfers onto the buses, I'm told. But those transfers are only good for two hours from [I think] time of purchase. One hour left when you get to Ogden, meaning for all but the briefest visits, you'd have to buy a bus ticket to return to the train station. And it's a looong walk from say the Amphitheater or Wise Guys or Great Harvest to the FR station. I enjoy the walk, but someone older, or who doesn't like walking, or with kids along may not think it a reasonable distance. Not to mention rainy or very cold days. Being able to hop on the 603 at any point, any time, between 25th and the RR station might be attractive and helpful, business-wise.

I don't know. I'm not in business. Just thinking out loud about how to make things work a little better than they seem to be so far. If you are connected with the City administration, please pass on.

Curmudgeon said...

Correction:

I've since learned that there are two ticketing machines at the Ogden RR station, one at the S. end where the trains board [and where people seem to be jamming up in lines, now and then, trying to get tix], and another at the N. end of the platform... which is a fair piece away, but certainly worth knowing about if there's a line at the end of the platform where people are boarding. Just FYI. I just learned about the second machine this afternoon.

Bill C. said...

Funny you should mention the old Star Noodle Parlor. Some years back, a guy tried to buy the building from Ogden City with intentions of refurbishing it immediately. Then City economic guru Scott Brown told him he wasn't the type of player the City was looking for and refused his offer. About 2 or 3 years latter the same Scott Brown sold the property to an outfit in which he is also a principle in, for the same price the guy offered earlier. That's what I was told.
If thats true, there would all ready be a viable attractive business in that location.

danny said...

Wait.

I think you may be on to something.

Millions in taxpayer money, distributed by bureaucrats to cronies, hasn't revitalized anything very much.

Amazing. Maybe we should tell someone what we've discovered.

And we could tell them the sky is blue, too.

dan s. said...

Unlike gentle Curmudgeon, I spent today working. But yesterday I took a lovely Sunday bike ride around Ogden's historic neighborhoods, including downtown, looking for the buildings in the annual Landmarks Commission Scavenger Hunt. (Deadline was today, so if you missed it, come back next year.) Thoroughly enjoyed the ride but of course most of downtown was completely dead on Sunday. Exceptions were the Catholic and Episcopal churches (both of which were part of the scavenger hunt), the Megaplex 13 (across the street from the closed Salomon Center), and the taco stands outside the Municipal Building, where business was booming.

And I too was struck by the number of vacant buildings downtown, including some on 25th Street and some immediately across Wall Avenue from the Intermodal Hub. Makes me wonder what Godfrey's been doing to scare off investors.

disgusted said...

go check out lesham city if you want to see bad. plywood boarded up windows and doors on all the houses on both sides of the river. run down lawns and wind blown trash.

yes sir this is progress.

Moroni McConkie said...

Nice post, Curm. It's about time you came to my GFC on 25th, given how many times I've been to yours on Harrison. I've had the identical sensation you had on the sidewalk in front of Great Harvests, many times.

Tec is right about UTA's cluelessness in refusing to coordinate the Airport bus with the FrontRunner. I've been trying to choreograph getting to Ogden from the airport this week, but so far haven't seen a logical bus/FrontRunner sequence.

Dan: It's not totally dead on Sundays. Roosters does a respectable brunch.

dan s. said...

MM: Yes, Rooster's was another of the exceptions, with quite a few cars parked outside (didn't look inside).

Ogden Resident said...

Ted,

Have to agree with your comment, FR been running a week.

Curm, how long did you say we should give the Junction before we should know how it's doing?

Curmudgeon said...

Ogden Resident:

I didn't. I have said we'd begin to get an idea about a year out, if we got a look at the books of the various venues operating in the Junction, how things were going for them. And I've said it will take longer than that to know if The Junction was a wise move or not for the city as a whole [unless the leasing venues start going belly up]. I pointed out that the old Ogden Mall seemed to be going gangbusters before it failed.

That applies to Frontrunner: we will have some idea a year out if it's drawing what was projected in terms of riders.

As for the Frontrunner's impact on Ogden [a different question than the success of the train as commuter rail], of course we can't draw any final conclusions after one week of service. Or one month. Nor did I. But, unless you've come to this issue very late, you should have noticed over the last three years considerable talk and anticipation that businesses would be opening along 25th Street in anticipation of that arrival. I merely noted that foot traffic mid-morning on a beautiful spring day was zilch post arrival, and that there seemed to be a lot of vacant store fronts as well, still.

The other point noted was the [seems to me] large amount of office space unoccupied in downtown Ogden. Walk around and notice the signs. As I recall the Mayor had urged the city to foot the bill, and accept the risk of making rent payments if Boyer couldn't rent it out, of an additional floor on one of the office buildings going up at The Junction. Boyer advised against it, and the Council sided with Boyer and refused to add the additional floor, much to Hizzonah's annoyance. From what I can see so far, that was probably a wise decision.

But nowhere in my post can you find anything suggesting the final word is in on the impact of Frontrunner on Ogden, or even on 25th Street. I merely noted that so far, in terms of 25th Street, not much seems to have happened, despite investors and entrepreneurs knowing the arrival date of Frontrunner for several years now.

Og, I'm happy to defend my arguments... but not ones I didn't make.

dap said...

bill c.- the City didn't own the Star Noodle, how could it sell it?

sammy said...

I've taken the Frontrunner a couple of times, and I must say I am dissapointed at this point in time (I know it has only been a week). My main two gripes are 1)not enough bicycle space!!! And 2) the ride each way (to/from Ogden/SLC) took over 1 hour (I was hoping for a much shorter ride). These are issues that need to be resolved. If I'm going to have a difficult time getting on and off with my bike and if the ride is going to continually take well over an hour, then I'm done w/ it. It won't be worth it. Hopefully UTA is working on making more room for bikes (why there are only a very small number of bike spots is beyond me); I'm not sure what they can do about the timing issues. Just my take thus far. I hope it gets better and succeeds. Utah needs more and better mass transit options!

Curmudgeon said...

Sammy:

Early days, still in shake downs. I rode it today. Arrived SLC four minutes late. Arrived back in Ogden right on time.

There is this, though. Except for the stations, it is a one-track system, which means if any train runs late, things back up all along the line, since the only place trains can pass is at stations. We stopped in Roy for about four minutes going south waiting for a northbound train to reach the station and clear the track ahead, and we waited about two minutes going north for a southbound train to reach Woods Cross so we could proceed. Baring breakdowns, I imagine on time performance will improve over time. We also ran under speed restrictions for a time in a construction area.

The train route covers I think 58 miles, and it makes five stops. If it can do that, reliably, in an hour, I think it'll be well worth the fare.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
disgusted said...

in support of curms comment. if you look at the new wells fargo building it appears to only be about one third rented. looking into the windows on the second and third floor from the south side reveals that other than the offices that front washington blvd most everthing else is not even finished. duct work and steel studs.
you can only imagine what the old offices of wells fargo look like.

Carolyn said...

Anonymous,

Our cats are just fine.

Chad Spector said...

It's awesome when the voice of ignorance stops lambasting growth in Ogden just long enough to bitch about there not being enough growth. Simply awesome.

Curmudgeon said...

Oh, Chad. Give it a rest. Find some new material, please. The disagreement has never been about growth vs non-growth. That's just variation 5462 on the "naysayer" mantra you folks like to keep intoning as a substitute for thought.

The discussion, and disagreement, has always been about smart growth versus sprawl, over growth that enhances the community and makes it a better place for all of us to live, and growth that metastasizes unchecked and badly planned that makes the community a less attractive place to live.

We can disagree, and clearly do, about what constitutes smart growth and what doesn't [Frontrunner does, flatland gondola doesn't IMHO]. Fair enough. But give the old "they're against growth!" bromide a rest. It's getting really old.

You... and, sadly, often Mayor Godfrey... seem to have a very Manichean view of Ogden city governance: if folks are not 100% on board, cheering all the way, with the Mayor's vision at any given moment, whatever it might be, then they're enemies, naysayers, against progress, etc. No middle ground, no possibility of partial agreement on some matters, and partial disagreement on others. It's a pretty childish way to approach complex civic issues. [I still recall with great glee, a Godfreyista rising in a city council meeting to tell the Council that if it didn't give the Mayor what he wanted on the Bootjack property matter, the Council would be betraying the Founding Fathers, the Flag and violating the Constitution. Yes, Chad, he really said that.]

I and many others --- including Mayor Godfrey, to his credit --- strongly supported commuter rail coming to Ogden. It involves exactly no retreat or change of mind or inconsistency on my part to be concerned that Ogden reap as many benefits from its arrival as possible, and to become concerned when it looks like Ogden is squandering chances to do that.

Chad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chad said...

The only chances being squandered are by the goons at smart growth. Ironic how the founders were some of the first to develop the bench and now want to freeze it in time along with Ogden. Sorry, that's not good enough.

What argument can really be made to thwart the development of Malan's? Gondola or not it'll be the best thing to ever happen to Ogden and would clearly help fill the void you're whining about. Perhaps it's not the best place for a ski resort, but it's an amazing place for a 4 seasons resort. The potential to bring in world class golf and mountain biking (think Whistler's bike park) are beyond words. Fretting over the loss of a small section of public trails and park in exchange for access to a plethora of new and far better amenities is not smart at all. Thinking along those lines is almost as bad as believing that manufacturing jobs are the wave of the future for Weber County. Some like to doubt the reality that the resort might actually bring but with vigilant pre-requisites placed upon the project to supply new spaces to replace those that will be lost the citizens come out on top.

Along those same lines (there was a letter to the editor on the 27th that I wrote) something drastic needs to change regarding the ordinances currently in place downtown pertaining to parking and density for mixed use development. Current statutes cripple even the most optimistic investors from taking on the large scale projects the vacant buildings require.

Not until a resort is underway will there be enough demand to fill the commercial space that exists. Creating mixed use properties is the only way to even come close to covering the cost of ownership of these buildings until the community matures enough to occupy all the street level retail space. The resort and it's high end residential development would drive the demand for white collar services and retail offerings creating a premium demand for the spaces that currently blight the city.

There is no perfect world, but the constant vitriol spewed against any and all efforts by the Mayor to bring about change is childish. Sites like this do nothing to create real solutions.

Curmudgeon said...

Chad:

Ah, Chad. Good way to win over people by the force of your argument. Open by calling them "goons."

You wrote: "What argument can really be made to thwart the development of Malan's? Gondola" Well, Chad, first let's be clear about which gondola you are talking about. If you're talking about the one proposed to run from the head of 36th Street to Malan's Basin, I don't think Smart Growth has taken any position on that gondola. What I suspect you are talking about, though, is the flatland gondola from downtown to WSU... which will NOT go to Malan's Basin.

You wrote: Fretting over the loss of a small section of public trails and park in exchange for access to a plethora of new and far better amenities is not smart at all. The proposal, Chad, was to sell ALL of the park, or nearly all of it, for real estate development. Not "a small section of public trails and park." You're talking about the largest park in Ogden.

As for mixed use development in Ogden, why I believe "the goons" at Smart Growth Ogden supported improved mixed-use zoning ordinances, and many SGO people who took part in the drafting of a Mt. Ogden Community plan did as well.

As for Ogden having no chance to develop its downtown commercial properties without a Malan's Basin resort....well, Chad, who's being negative and pessimistic now?

As for Mr. Peterson's land in Malan's Basin: it's his land. He certainly has the right to develop it as he thinks best suits his interests [consistent with existing county ordinances, forest service watershed rules, etc.]... provided he can either finance the development himself, or find willing investors willing to join him in the venture. But it seems, Chad, "the market" has some doubts about the viability of the resort project, since Mr. Peterson announced he could not finance its development unless the city sold him Mt. Ogden Park to develop as a gated village of vacation villas. The profits from that, he said, were necessary to allow him to build the up-mountain resort.

A project of such dicey success that its advocates cannot find willing investors seems a very thin reed on which to rest Ogden's entire economic future, Chad.

But then, what do I know? I'm just a Smart Growth Ogden "goon."

disgusted said...

chad
how did all those businesses that built in and developed in the downtown in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s get by with the parking situation. i can assure you there wasn't even the mall parking terrace back then and yet the businesses thrived.

could it be that the parking isnt the problem but rather the dealing with the city. i know of several businesses that the city has driven away or turned away because they didnt meet the current administrations vision.

Ted Nugent said...

MY GOD!!! The people!!! There were thousands of people in Ogden this morning at 9am. This is a clear sign that the FR is WORKING!!! IT'S WORKING!!!

Ogden should be proud of FR doing it's job this Saturday morning!

Congratulations!

RudiZink said...

Three cheers for the OGden Marathon!

Kudos to all involved.

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