Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ben Lomond Hotel Heads for the Auction Block

Ambitious hotel development project hits a slight snag... i.e, Foreclosure

It was a mere six months ago that the Standard-Examiner delivered optimistic Emerald City economic development news, with the announcement that a Las Vegas investor had acquired the venerable Ben Lomond Hotel. Ian Dixon, president of UIG Resorts reportedly intended to renovate the Ben Lomond’s lobby, install an upscale restaurant, convert existing commercial space into 147 condominiums, and ultimately build a 200-room tower near the hotel’s parking garage.

What a difference six months (and an economic recession) make. The Std-Ex reports this morning that Dixon's ambitious project, or at least a portion of it, is headed for the auction block:
OGDEN — A notice of default on a $5.3 million bank loan has been filed against a corporation that owns condominiums and suites within the historic Ben Lomond Hotel.
The notice filed with the Weber County Recorder’s Office indicates 2510 Washington LLC is in default because it has failed to make monthly installment payments to Financial Freedom Loans Inc.
Information was unavailable Wednesday regarding whether foreclosure on the Ben Lomond is imminent. Timothy W. Blackburn, an Ogden attorney representing Financial Freedom Loans, was out of the office.
The notice doesn’t detail whether the default involves all of the hotel and doesn’t list the principal owners of 2510 Washington LLC.
It’s unclear whether the entire Ben Lomond is owned by a single corporation or multiple individuals, said Tom Christopulos, the city’s business development manager
We had a fairly robust discussion on the this topic back in January, in which a number of our gentle readers expressed reservations about the wisdom of launching another hotel project in the Ogden market, where existing hotels already seemed to be struggling with low occupancy rates. On top of that, a few of our readers expressed concerns about the financial capacity of UIG, whose sole apparant assets appeared to be limited to a website, some undeveloped acreage in Paraguay and the Phillippines, and a vague business plan emphasising mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and... get this... web design.

According to this morning's story, this is one of the few downtown development projects that hasn't been on the public dole, so this doesn't appear to be a project where taxpayer dollars are at risk. Nevertheless, the apparent failure of this project piques our curiosity, and we're curious about what happened here, as a highly ambitious privately-financed developer seems to have hit the terminal skids.

Was Mr. Dixon and his company simply hamstrung by the tight credit market, which has existed since at least March of 2007? Did Mr. Dixon make the original puchase on the basis of flawed due diligence, learning only after acquiring the property that The Godfrey Vision wasn't quite the "hot real estate ticket" that had been portrayed by the administration? Did Mr. Dixon lack the financial capacity to pull off such an ambitious project in the first place, as several of our readers suggested? Did Mr. Dixon acquire his ownership interest in the property merely as a short-term play, with the intention of "flipping" it for a quick profit, once the newly-sworn in Boss Godfrey, secure in his third four year mayoral term of office, set forth to work his high adventure destination magic? Does this latest story development have anything to do with gondolas... or lack of gondolas?

We realize these questions all call for plenty of speculation, since today's story is a mite thin on the facts. And in the next few days, time permitting, we plan to mosey on down to the County Recorder's office to find out who's really in title... and whose property interests are truly at stake.

In the meantime however, we invite you all to put on your thinking caps, and offer your own insights at to what may be happening at the Ben Lomond Hotel.

And if any of you are privy to additional facts to add to the discussion, we'd love to hear about them.

Comments, anyone?

27 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Really sad news. I recall the SE stories a while back about the project to renovate the Ben Lomond, to bring it back to its glory days, to restore the ballrooms and public spaces as they had been. The BL is a unique property, and one the city can ill-afford to lose. It's not another cookie-cutter chain hotel like a Sheraton or a Marriott or the Embassy Suites [formerly Crown Plaza]. It's unique and historic and offers therefor something you cannot find elsewhere in an Ogden hotel. I hope a brawl among multiple owners of various portions of the property does not end up with the building going dark for long months, if not years, of court proceedings.

I'm not sure how viable the condo plans for the hotel were, but, presuming them to have been viable, this is another blow to what I understood to be the original plan for reviving downtown Ogden: to create a substantial middle class and up residential population downtown, which would generate business for the restaurants, shops, etc. already there and going up at The Junction and elsewhere.

Now the Ben Lomond condos are on hold, apparently. Mr. Reid says his big condo project at The Junction, announced with much fanfare a year ago, will not break ground, probably, until two years from now. Meaning at best won't be ready for occupancy for three years. [Financing seems to be the problem.] Perhaps the owners of the old Windsor Hotel on 25th Street are proceeding with their condo plans, though I haven't seen anything happening yet. And I haven't heard much in a while about going forward with Phase II of the Union Square condo development.

I have to wonder, if the plans for significantly increasing the downtown upscale residential population are grinding to a halt, how will that impact the recreational and dining and retail venues already existing or planned? Can the whole development idea work as planned without significantly increasing the middle class and up residential population of downtown? Certainly the time frame for accomplishing that seems to have been stretched out significantly. [Again, see Mr. Reid's announcement.] And as for the much ballyhooed River Project Development Area, it still seems to consist exclusively of a bikelery and bakery open in one building, lots of vacant lots, and the crime ridden abandoned Lesham Village properties.

So, a question: is the original overall plan for downtown redevelopment still viable?

OgdenLover said...

With Frontrunner and >$4/gallon gas now a reality, I should think that downtown residential development is the one thing that would be viable. Too bad the credit crunch hit those projects after city money had been blown on kiddie rides.

dan s. said...

Didn't the mayor have his election night party at the Ben Lomond? Even if it hasn't been on the public dole, the owner seems to be a FOM.

dan s., said...

In other news, there is a large rubber-tired faux trolley parked on 32nd Street, between Polk and Taylor. Washington license plate; says it runs on natural gas. Anyone know what it's doing here? Will it soon be shuttling tourists between the Intermodal Hub and 25th Street? If so, who's paying for it?

Moroni McConkie said...

I agree that the plans for Ogden's downtown revival are contingent upon creating owned-and-occupied residential properties. The present economic doldrums have probably knocked the wind out of those plans for years to come.

I'd be surprised if the Windsor Hotel renovation gets its certificate of occupancy by next April 30th, the date at which Ogden City has the right to buy it back. Its developer has a website: ogdenpropertiesllc.com. Of its four downtown properties, only the rechristened "Grand" (the flophouse at 136 25th with "Coca Cola" still visible on its side brick wall) currently shows signs of life, but it's really only one luxury apartment above retail. And I'll eat my hat if they sell it for the 900K asking price.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

Rumors are, a downtown business has acquired two trolleys it will operate as shuttles from the Frontrunner station to 25th Street and the Juntion, and possibly other locations like the dino park. Haven't heard anything yet about financing arrangements or involvement with Ogden City, if any.

I talked with a guy working on the trolley on 32nd street the other day. He was laboriously using Brasso and rags to bring back a high police to the brass fixtures, but didn't know anything about planned operations, routes, etc. As faux trolleys go, it looked like a pretty high-end vehicle based on interior fixtures, seats, metalwork, etc.

dan s. said...

Curm:

Thanks for passing on the rumor. These vehicles can't be cheap, and operating them won't be cheap either, so I really wonder where the money's coming from.

Shuttles between FrontRunner, 25th Street, and the Junction sound like a great idea, although I also wish people would just learn to ride the bus. A shuttle to the dinosaur park would be pretty silly, I think.

Curmudgeon said...

Dan:

In re: the bus, I've heard tell that a downtown business has complained about a 25th Street bus stop being right outside its entrance. Apparently, the scruffy types --- you know, people like me --- who occasionally catch the bus there are offensive by their mere presence. Rumor has it the business is pressing to have the bus route moved a block S. of 25th Street to relieve its customers of the embarrassment of having to walk past the hoi polloi.

I can certainly sympathize. I mean, we all know what kind of people ride public buses. SGO supporters. Sierra Clubbers. Adjunct professors of history. Students. Folks who can't afford cars. Or gas for their cars. Environmentalists. Who'd want to have to pass by them to go shopping?

dorrene jeske said...

I hope it's all right for me to do a little reminiscing about the Ben Lomond Hotel since it is the subject of this thread.
It was a very nice hotel when I worked there as an elevator operator while attending Weber Jr. College. Maizie Eccles lived on the 12th Floor, and there were numerous other residents, including Ben Day, who lived there during the last half of the 50's decade. (Can't help but wonder how the City's ordinance that was adopted in 2005 that prohibits people living in motels and hotels longer than 30 days would affect Mrs. Eccles and Ben Day. The passing of that ordinance without one question from the former Council as to how it would affect the businesses and their occupants, is one reason I decided to run for the Council.) KLO was on the 7th Floor and I took Len Allen up and down in the elevator frequently. I worked as the evening elevator operator (3 PM to 11 PM). It was a great job and a lot of fun most of the time in spite of hearing the "ups and downs jokes" all the time. All the football and basketball players of the teams who came to play Weber stayed there. I remember the Four Freshmen staying there when Weber booked them for one of their dances at the White City Ballroom -- even went to it. I remember businessmen slipping the bell hops some money and sometimes the keys to their car and asking them to go to the liquor store and "pick up a bottle" for them. There was one night when I picked up the bell hop after he had taken a young man's bags to his room, and he was so angry and swearing like crazy when he got on the elevator. I jokingly asked him what the problem was -- didn't the guy tip him? His reply was a few more cuss words and the guy had propositioned him to go to his room after his shift. It was an interesting job for a young 18-year-old girl. The Ben Lomond Hotel was the ONLY reputable hotel in Ogden so it was usually pretty busy and a swinging place then.

Curmudgeon said...

Dorrene:

That's not reminiscing you're doing, Dorrene. That's history. I hope you at some point get your memories of the place down on tape. Truly, it's just those kinds of everyday memories that often turn out to be important, and add life to the social history of American places.

I often assign students in my history classes to interview someone at least sixty years old about what life was like when they were growing up. Some interview people, often family members, in their nineties. I've read wonderful stories, including one woman in here eighties now I think who was an elevator operator when she was young in a Salt Lake city building. She told of being on the job one day when suddenly she heard a lot of shouting out in the street as the elevator came down to the lobby. And someone came running into the lobby, grabbed her by the hand, shouting "the war's over, the war's of, Japan surrendered!" It was VE day and people were coming out of the buildings celebrating, hugging, laughing, shouting. Other stories of young people collecting the "cotton" from milkweed plants for the Navy to use as flotation filling for flyers life vests. Stories of elephants watering in the Ogden River when the circus came to town. And lots more.

Reminisce away, Dorrene. Reminisce away....

danny said...

I appreciate Dorrene for the typically genuine, interesting comments.

But the bottom line is this. Here we have another grand, government plan to "renew" or otherwise involve itself in business, and we watch as it unravels.

It happens almost every time. And yet, nobody ever learns.

danny said...

Didn't the Ben Lomond lobby used to have a sign in it, stating that plans were on hold pending the coming of the gondola? See that's it. We didn't have enough gummint.

Mayor little timmy, it turns out, is not a development genius after all. Gee, what a surprise.

jill said...

You're right, Danny. That hotel project was doomed from the beginning! I seem to recall the owners saying a while back that if the gondola is built then they will do a grade A job rehabbing the old building. Heaven forbid they actually have a bona fied business plan. What a joke.

Tec Jonson said...

Sadly , these wannabe developers that have flocked to Ogden during the Matt Godfrey tenure have been pumped by the flood of press release journalism and travelogues. Unfortunately most of these pieces were self generating by the previous piece in the pages of a given periodicals' competitor. Does anyone really think Ogden is one of the "ten best places to live"? It may be and it certainly is to me, but these puff pieces are short on substance and serves to attract the fly-by-nighters. Since when do people pull up roots wherever they are and move to some strange place on the advice of Outside magazine. These developers likely make their way to floor 9 and see all the puff pieces plastered on the wall and can only assume things are hopping here. They are not. Life is simply happening in Ogden. These highly mobilistas are rootless and move from community to community looking for acceptance and favors from local govt. All the while we enjoy ogden as it is and as it will always be. No hotels or ski wear distributor is going to make things cool here. I fell into the same trap. I thought that Salomon moving here may bring some new faces and new attitudes from the Pacific NW. Whatever...We'll do fine around here without a gondola, without more ski companies and without Matt Godfrey and his friends.

Curmudgeon said...

Tec:

As real estate in places like Las Vegas and S. California and Florida continues in freefall, taking homeowners and banks and jobs down with it, and bankrupting speculators, I keep recalling one of the Mayor's gondola dog and pony shows a couple of years ago and a particular city council meeting at which Hizzonah's advocates, including the out of state head of Provident Partners, along with one of the Geigers... Bob I think... kept pointing out how the rest of the country had seen a tremendous real estate boom over the previous decade, and how Ogden had not, and how if we only agreed to the then -and now- non-existent Peterson Proposal, Ogden homeowners would at last cash in on the boom too.

I notice now that as real estate values crater in those places we were being urged to emulate, and foreclosures there, and unsold properties skyrocket, real estate values here seem to be holding their own, and at last report, showed a modest appreciation.

Oddly, I don't hear the Provident Partners CEO or Mr. Geiger explaining to us anymore how following their plans would at last permit Ogden homeowners to cash in on the real estate bubble... ooops, I meant boom of course.

Looks like, just possibly, sustained [and sustainable] moderate growth --- dare we call it Smart Growth? --- works better in the long run for residents and local economies than the boom and bust cycle Hizzonah's ardent advocates were so eagerly pressing upon the Council and voters.

Imagine that.

Bill C. said...

Tec, Ogden is a great place for the folks that reside here. These are the people that need to be served. This high adventure branding, and artificial amusement gimick stuff needs to stop. It's unrealistic, and takes the focus away from the needs of the everyday Ogdenite. We have what we have, great skiing, nice local trail system, a beautifull and challenging as well as unique mountain golf course, 25th st, two beatifull rivers that run through our town, and are the reason for it's exsistence. This place is great for the folks that live here, our current administration is doing all a tremendous disservice catering to everyone but local residents and businesses that have been here all along.
Why can't we do our planning and redevelopment with our exsisting folks in mind? When will buying a shirt and pair of pants in town be more important than an artificial indoor/outdoor icecicle? How about transportation suited for the current demographics, not some idiotic gondola to nowhere.
How about supporting our golf course with adequate funding and promoting it for the great unique facility it is? This facility is superb for a municipal golf course, we don't need resort developer interlopers telling us we need their plans for a mountain Pebble Beach.
Some other suggestions include, our economic development group ought to be aiding exsisting business needs, small business, not related to these outdoor guys.
Speaking of these outdoor guys, why don't they give something back to the community? Doesnt Amersports rep Wilson? How about if in consideration for their name being given to the rec center, they donate some sports equipment to the non privilaged kids of our community through programs at the Marshall White Center? Getting these kids involved in little league baseball and such seems to be a great way to get them off the streets and exposed to positive role models.
What happened to royal eccles plan for getting private funding to convert more parks for organized soccer? Was that just expensive election BS?
Lying little matty's high adventure garbage is surely doomed in hard economic times, rather than focus on all these ways to remake the city and it's population, why not look inward and cater to the folks that have all ready made a choice to live here?

Curmudgeon said...

Bill:

While I agree that the flatland gondola scheme is nonsense and the Chambers blind and continuing endorsement of it raises serious questions about the judgment of the Ogden Business Community, or at least its leaders, I'm hard put to understand why it's bad for Ogden to promote itself as an outdoor sports destination for travelers, competitors, and companies that serve outdoor sports, as well as potential residents who might be drawn to living in a place where all that is nearby. I don't see why doing that diminishes Ogden for residents in any appreciable way, and by bringing in competitions, visitors and some businesses, it may well improve things. I kind of enjoyed the XTERRA finish last year at the beer garden in the park. Was kind of fun... until the rain started.

As for this: Speaking of these outdoor guys, why don't they give something back to the community? I seem to recall Charles Trentelman's column reported a while back that the dozens of new bike racks that have gone up all over downtown were contributed by Amer Sports. And I know some of these companies donate raffle prizes etc. to volunteer organizations for public projects. And I've seen the logos of some of the companies posted as sponsors of a variety of public events. Just suggesting that they may well be involved --- some of them certainly are --- in "giving something back" in ways that generally you, and often I, are not necessarily always aware of.

Bill C. said...

Curm, my suggestion is that to put all our eggs in an outdoor/ indoor artificial egg basket and solely pursue that as salvation is ludicrus. I have talked to 3 exsisting business folks that were damn near run out of town when they sought aid from Harmer and co. Fortunately they found thru their own due diligence, and aid from other business folks, a way to stay.
X- tierra, despite what lying little matty says, loves Ogden the way it is, you recall at the rained out party, Snow Basin, combined with downtown Ogden is all they desire to return, again and again. Not gondolas or artificial icetowers or slip n slides or even whack a geiger.

Keicha B. said...

Curm:

While I don't mean to get into a discussion about corporate philanthropy and how it affects public perception of a company, in my opionion most of the Ogden outdoor/ski companies do little in the way of giving back to our community. They do seem to support a select few causes, but I would classify the level of giving I've seen from them as minimal. I attend most of the large charitable fundraisers in Ogden, and with the exception of a few events, support from the ski/outdoor rec. companies is conspiciously absent. As an active volunteer for a few local non-profits, and more importantly, as an Ogden resident, I notice who supports what in Ogden. Granted, every company is necessarily selective in which causes they choose to support, and I give them full credit for what they have supported. However, if I saw them supporting the causes near and dear to my heart, which happen to be causes that directly support Ogden schools, after-school programs for local children, funding for the local Red Cross chapter, etc. it would go a long way in changing my opinion of them as opportunists who don't sincerely care about our community and its future.

Tec Jonson said...

Curm,

Mass tourism may quite likely be a thing of the past. So much of our culture and economy is built on the route 66 model. Realistic fuel prices(what we have today and in the future is realistic) will never support the kind of mobility necessary to feed the local tourism business model.

*When I say realistic, it refers to the relative value of a given task delivered by fossil fuel. A farmer in India may bid higher than you and I for a gallon of fuel given the kind of service that fuel gives him. Running his tractor over a few acres of chickpeas means far more to his survival than our selfish impulses to take a summer auto tour.

Curmudgeon said...

Bill and Keicha b:

Bill: Ok, no argument. Promoting Ogden exclusively as an outdoor sports/adventure base is not a wise idea. And I've heard, as clearly you have too, enough complaints from operators of Ogden businesses about the Administration's putting too many resources into attracting the new and too few into strengthening or assisting in the expansion of the existing to just dismiss such complaints out of hand.

I suspect, Bill, that part of the problem has to do with size. Fresnius [sp?]is an established Ogden business, and the city and administration have [rightly I think] pitched in to assist its expansion in town. Whether the administration focuses as well on small business support is a topic that might well be worth some public discussion.

KB: you're clearly better placed to be informed about, and comment on, corporate charitable giving in Ogden than I am. [I do not, as a rule attend charitable fundraisers.] I defer to your better information on this subject.

I did note from your post, though, that such support as those companies do give goes to groups/causes that are not particularly high on your preference list, notably schools and children's programs. Schools and children's programs rank pretty high on my preference list too.

I wonder, do you know if Ogden Schools has an "adopt a school" program for local businesses? They work well in other places. If we don't, I wonder if we should. Often, relatively small contributions can make a very large difference.

An example: Mrs. C. substituted a bit last year in elementary schools,and in one of her classes they were damn near out of things like paper, pencils, colored markers, colored paper. Just basics for an early elementary class room. She was talking about that at a coffee shoppe with a friend and someone at the next table excused himself, came over and asked for more information. What do you need? Etc. She told him. He said he was a member of a service organization [ala Kiwanis or Rotery or Lions etc.] and it sounding like a very small contribution might have a big impact, and he'd raise it with his fellow club members next day.

A few days after that, he showed up at the school with reams of paper, pencils, markers, colored paper, and more. Distributed to the class she was subing in, with much left to go to other classes too. Whole thing came to a couple of hundred bucks, all told, and it made a difference.

I wonder if a business oriented "adopt a school" program might be effective, here, if we don't have one already. In terms of cost, they can be relatively minimal. In terms of impact, they can matter a lot. In terms of good will and publicity, the businesses involved don't do badly either.

Just wondering....

Keicha B. said...

Curm:

The Ogden-Weber Chamber has a Partners in Education committee that's purpose is to facilitate partnerships between local businesses and Weber District and Ogden City schools. The type and level of support given varies. There are a lot of businesses doing some great things to support our schools.

Curmudgeon said...

Keicha:

Thanks for the information. I didn't know that. Good.

Donald said...

I am a businessman from southern california and I would like to acknowledge everyone who has participated in the comments about your "community" it appears to me Ogden is a great place for future endeavors. As far as Ian Dixon and UIG Financial is concerned: the Ben Lomond is in good hands, in fact I couldnt think of a better man to represent the centerpoint of a community truly rich in historical value.

dixon is a crook said...

Everyone seems to be missing the point (even Donald disguise as Ian..;.know it’s him)...Ian Dixon is a crook and con man...if you go from that point, then you understand why things are going the way they are at the Hotel...My personal experience from this man...he’ll take your money...give you a good talk...and even smile as he sees you sign contracts for any of his business opportunity. LET ME SAY AGAIN...!!!!!...this man is a CON man! He should be in Jail and the fat guys bitch! Wish someone would just do the search of this man and his operations...then you would see. UIG...Uncover Idiot Group...Ian Dixon President...he has some really nice property trees in South America for you and a big bridge in San Franscio for sale.

laloo said...

Great post… Great info on bounce rates… I’ll have to write an entry about the same topic some day soon… Bounce rates can tell you alot…
I tend to look at the bounce rate and then look at the keywords that brought people to the site. Does the page answer the keyword question? If No then there is some work to do on that or a new more focused post.


websitedesigning

Charted said...

This article is a good example of Godfrey-type shenanigans gone to seed.
As went the last 30 years at the Ben Lomond, so the entire Junction Development similarly goes.

Just a cash cow, for someone.

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