Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ace Reporter Schwebke Pronounces the Windsor Hotel Project Dead

And Councilwoman Gochnour attempts to smooth over some ruffled Landmarks Commission feathers

Two important items in this morning's Standard-Examiner, regarding the Weber County Forum hot topic of the week, Ogden Properties LLC's Windsor Hotel rehabilitation project.

Ace Reporter Schwebke's morning story pronounces the project dead. We incorporate Mr. Schwebke's opening graphs:
OGDEN — The owners of the Windsor Hotel officially canceled plans Monday to renovate the historic inn because of a city council decision preventing the addition of a fourth floor.
Ogden Properties LLC, which owns the Windsor, lost its construction loan for the project because the council last week refused to approve a zoning amendment that could have allowed the additional floor to be built.
“In today’s market, lenders are trying to get out of construction loans,” said Dave Harmer, Ogden’s director of community and economic development. He tried Monday to persuade Ogden Properties to reconsider its decision. “They had financing ready to go, and then it all fell apart because of the council action,” he said. In addition, Ogden Properties has asked the city, which provided $288,000 in incentives last year to help the Windsor renovations move forward, if it plans to exercise its option to buy the hotel back, Harmer said. If the city chooses not to exercise that option, it forfeits any right to the incentives it provided, he said. Stuart Sheldon, an official with Ogden Properties, said his company is disappointed that the Windsor project won’t be undertaken. “It’s dead, so there is nothing for us to say,” he said Monday in a phone interview. “It’s sad and frustrating, but that’s the end of it.” The Windsor project was dealt a fatal blow last week when the city council rejected by a 5-2 vote an amendment that would provide exemptions to a 45-foot height restriction for Historic 25th Street buildings.
There will no doubt be plenty of second guessing about this; and we're quite certain there will be the usual flurry of Godfreyite letters to the Standard-Examiner, blaming the council for the failure of this project. When the smoke clears however, a troubling series of questions will remain: Why did the developer draw up plans and arrange financing for a project which clearly failed to comply with the existing zoning ordinance? If the developer was aware at the time of the purchase of the property that the addition of a penthouse would require a zoning variance, why wasn't this mentioned (or made a contingent part of the deal) at the time the proposed transaction was first presented to the council? Inasmuch as the developer's proposed project merely required a single exception to existing zoning rules, why did the administration draw up a new ordinance which would apply to the entire Historic 25th Street District? Why did Boss Godfrey's proposed ordinance contain language which would have stripped zoning approval authority from the council, and have vested it in an unelected advisory body, i.e., the Landmarks Commission? And last but not least... is there anybody who really believes that the developer had its loan all lined up... taking into account the current condition of the U.S. credit market?

So many questions... so few answers.

We also learn this morning that Councilwoman Gochnour has issued a written apology to the Landmarks Commission for ill-considered remarks uttered last week, evidently in the heat of passion:
“I went a step too far in my frustration at the end of a long and exhausting week,” she said in the e-mail obtained by the Standard-Examiner.
“And, I also want you to know I have great respect for the Landmarks Commission and all the excellent work you’ve done through the years in furthering Ogden’s historic preservation efforts.”
While we duly applaud Ms. Gochnour for her graciousness in reaching out to the Landmarks Commission, in a truly classy effort to smooth over some ruffled feathers, we nevertheless urge Ms. Gochnour and all five council grownups to remain vigilant. As long-time Godfrey watchers are well aware, our thoroughly Machiavellian Mayor Matt, regards apologies as acts of submission -- evidence of weakness -- which will henceforth require further acts of contrition (groveling.)

There hasn't been a week during the 3-1/2 years we've been Godfrey watching that we've been more proud of our city council's performance, by the way, than during this week's Windsor Hotel matter. The council has recently demonstrated a profound dedication to protecting the lumpencitizens' interests. Now is no time to let down their guard, we believe.

And lest our readers are temped to believe that this is the end of this story, we'll advise that we received this tip from a trusted source this morning:

"Sources close to me indicate Bob Geiger submitted a GRAMA request to the Utah State Historic Preservation Office for all correspondence between Barbara Murphy, of the office, and Ogden City."

The plot sickens, gentle readers. The Godfreyite's Council smear campaign which we warned about on Friday, is apparently well underway.

Have at it, gentle readers.

We'd love to get your takes on all this.

27 comments:

what will it costs us said...

Troubeling that they want to pocket the $288K incentives if the city doesn't option the buy back. With the downturn in credit this is a greedy way to take the money and run, any excuse to keep the money and laugh all the way to the bank. Why isn't there provisions when incentives are given away that loopholes aren't included. Will the owners ask a fair price or jack kit up to make money on a vacant building.

Let the city take it back at a reduced value since the tenenats were evicted, advertise it with incentives and maybe another developer can see the advantages of building/renovating in Ogden. The old hotel on the corner of Lincoln and 25th was restored for low income, this would be another good project that the current market would embrace. Keep the current historical building without a fourth floor, and maintain the uniqueness of Ogden.

I also take note of the photo of a supposed stumbling bar parton getting a cab. I think this keeps the impression of a dangerous 25th street alive. Is it the papers or administrations way to eliminate bars on 25th? I still hear people think Ogden is a dangerous city to visit, especially the parking garage at the Junction.

althepal said...

Godfreyites = Drama Queens

Moroni McConkie said...

Did anyone who checked out the Ogden Properties website notice the asking price of the renovated "Grand," just half a block west of the Windsor?

The various "scenarios" run anywhere from 600K to 900K.

Five years ago Ogden City couldn't sell Union Square, right across the street, until they gave buyers grant money covering the down payment. Even without that grant money, the asking prices were under 200K.

How many decades would Ogden Properties have had to wait before finding buyers for their projected luxury spaces at the Windsor?

Let's hope the Windsor's next lucky owner will price it more sensibly.

Bill C. said...

In the future all details of agreements between the ecconomic developement dept. and those their trying to secure funding for should be presented to the Council.
How could this deal not have included the Historic restoration as a condition of the money granted? Clearly their plans have totally disregarded historic restoration guidelines, and this landmarks commission seems to not really give a damn.
As for this financing crap, adding a floor would have greatly increased the amount of money to be borrowed, thus really increasing the risk. I argue that if they were qualified at all for a loan at this time, it would have been easier to borrow less than more.
I also think this condo craze ain't very viable as it is, how many of these condo projects have failed and can't get off the ground around here?
This time Harmer chooses to blame the Council rather than misplaced parking.

Curmudgeon said...

What a mess....

Rudi, you wrote: Inasmuch as the developer's proposed project merely required a single exception to existing zoning rules, why did the administration draw up a new ordinance which would apply to the entire Historic 25th Street District?

Well, actually, there was some reason behind that. Granting a single exemption to the Windsor project would have been "spot zoning." Which is, on the whole, not a good idea, since it defeats the purpose, often, of zoning in the first place. And once you start granting spot variances, it becomes difficult to deny similar requests from others in the same zone. So there was some logic behind raising the height limit for the entire area, rather than on a spot basis for just one property. [Note: this still leaves the question of whether raising it for the area would be a good idea or not. But I can see why the Administration, the Planning Commission and the Landmarks Commission wanted to apply any change to the whole area, not simply to one property.]

And you wrote: Why did Boss Godfrey's proposed ordinance contain language which would have stripped zoning approval authority from the council, and have vested it in an unelected advisory body, i.e., the Landmarks Commission?

Well, not simply in the LC but in the Planning Commission as well, I think. Both bodies would have had to sign off on future changes, not just one.

But that's a side issue. This current mess is another example of the Mayor's mangling what should have been a relatively simple issue. I feel a little sorry for the would-be developers of the Windsor project, since they never got a clean up or down vote on their project. The administration permitted their request to get wrapped up in a plan to change the way such variances would be handled in the future. A Council member who might well think the Windsor project a good one, and would have voted for it on a clean up and down vote on that alone. But he or she never got that chance. Instead, the administration so arranged things that to vote for the Windsor variance, council members had also to vote to change the way such variances would be handled in the future. If a council member wanted to vote "no" on that, he or she then also had to vote "no" on the Windsor request, since they were bundled together. Hizzonah really does not know much about effective public administration. Either his advisers are as clueless as he is, or he's ignoring their advice. [I suspect the latter, but I don't know for sure.]

And this is good example... and a painful one for the Windsor developers and possibly Ogden... of how Hizzonah's ham-fisted purgings of various advisory committees has come back to bite him in the butt. Had he not done that on the Trails committee and the Landmarks Commission etc., had those bodies remained in the public's [and council's] eye, entirely and unquestionably independent bodies, exercising unquestioned independent judgment, then the recommendation from the Landmarks Commission might have carried significantly more weight with the Council, and public, than it did. [Will one of Hizzonah's advisers please collar him and explain, slowly and using small words, that he, the Mayor, gains from having demonstrably independent review commissions and committees, provided he can make good cases for what he wants before those committees. That the visible and credible independence of those committees helps him in the long run, rather than hurts him. Draw pictures for him if necessary.]

So, what now? The Windsor developers say they are done and want out. If they mean it, that's it. The project is dead. If they still are willing to play, they should try to get a clean vote, on their variance request only, before the Council, un-encumbered with all the other stuff the Administration wrapped around their request last week. A vote that would be determined by only two issues:

a) Is the Windsor renovation proposed a good idea, by itself, for downtown Ogden? I suspect the answer to that question is "yes," in light of the alternative, which at the moment is to let the Windsor continue to deteriorate as a historic property. And no, I don't think turning it into low income units is a particularly good solution for Historic 25th Street. And I'm not sure under current market conditions some other developer can be found to take on the project as a smaller one. We don't know that one can be found. So I suspect, at this point, under the present circumstances, the proposal is on the whole a good one for the street. Provided that....

b)there are not downside costs to the project that overcome its benefits. It has been claimed by credible people that granting the Windsor a spot variance [or raising the height limit overall to 55 feet] may endanger the street's Historic District designation. There's the rub. And that is the matter that the Administration [and the developers] must address: they claim that the variance will not endanger the street's Historic District designation. The Landmarks Commission seems to concur in that. Well, they need to make the case, to establish with evidence, credible opinions supporting their argument, that the variance will not endanger the street's Historic District status. And it's that that Ms. Wilkerson and the Administration and the developers have not begun to do, so far as I can see. Odd, since that is what they must do to win their point... and a change in the height limit.

Curmudgeon said...

MM:

You need to talk to the Mayor. You clearly do not understand how Ogden would gain if the Windsor developers overpriced their condos and went under when they could not sell them.

Some years ago, when Hizzonah and Lift Ogden were engaged in their full court press for the gondola/gondola/park sale scheme, and holding those by invitation evening dog and pony shows to convince people, I asked the Mayor this: but suppose the Malan's basin mini-ski resort fails? It goes under? What then?"

His reply was that it wouldn't hurt Ogden at all, because someone would then buy the development at a much lower price when it failed, and he would be able to operate it successfully, since the new owners costs would be so much lower [much lower debt]. Mr. Peterson would take the hit, of course, but Ogden would do just fine as the new owners operated the property profitably, having paid fire-sale rates to acquire it.

See, MM? Ogden will still benefit if the Windsor developers go under because they overpriced their units. Talk to the Mayor. He'll explain it to you.

And we wonder how the sub-prime loan mess got so big?

dan s. said...

"The council should have focused only on the height amendment ordinance and not the implications of the Windsor renovations on 25th Sreet's historic district designation because that's the responsibility of the Landmarks Commission, said Mayor Matthew Godfrey."

I'm trying to think of a proper response to this amazing statement, but I'm left speechless. Fortunately, the statement speaks for itself.

Curmudgeon said...

Rudi:

You wrote: And lest our readers are temped to believe that this is the end of this story, we'll advise that we received this tip from a trusted source this morning:

"Sources close to me indicate Bob Geiger submitted a GRAMA request to the Utah State Historic Preservation Office for all correspondence between Barbara Murphy, of the office, and Ogden City."


Ah, Rudi... the GRAMA statute has served your readers here at WCF well. It's designed to make government operations transparent to voters. Mr. B. Geiger has as much right to access it as anyone else, and as much right to receive covered emails as opponents have to receive them when they GRAMA city government documents. I'm hard put to criticize him, even by implication, for using the same GRAMA statute opponents of Administration projects have used to get information about what's been going on.

This does provide a reminder, though, that when you email someone who a public officer... appointive or elective... your email [or letter for that matter] becomes part of the public record in many cases, and is subject to being GRAMA-ed. Wise to keep that in mind when firing off a missive to a Councilperson or the Mayor or anyone in city government at any level. If you don't want to see it quoted some day on the front pages of the SE, probably wisest not to say it in an email to a city official.

ozboy said...

It is kind of interesting to see how the Godfreyites rationalize situations to fit their own blindness when it comes to the machinations of the Lil Lord.

Case in point is "G" Train Wilkerson's quote in today's Standard Article on the good Councilwoman's apology to the Land Mark Commission.

In it she states that the relationship between the Commission and the Council are bad because some folks on the council think that others on the commission are susceptible to political pressure from the administration! Implied in this remarkable rationalization is that such an idea is just simply out of the question and therefore the fault lies with the Council.

One has to wonder if people like "G" Train are really that clueless, or are they just simply too corrupt and dishonest to see the truth in the Land Mark commission situation. Does she really believe that she and the other Godfrey appointees are free of all bias as it relates to the Administration?

Why in Ogden said...

Maybe we should have a GRAMA between Descente and Ogden City. Or like most corrupt politicians they use their Yahoo or AOL account so it can't be traced.

What committee is Bob Geiger on, or is he just doing his boot licking routine?

open government said...

I'm all for Bobby filing a GRAMA request on this issue. The more transparency in gov't the better. Seems like he has learned a good lesson from Dan S.

Guido said...

"Ah, Rudi... the GRAMA statute has served your readers here at WCF well. It's designed to make government operations transparent to voters. Mr. B. Geiger has as much right to access it as anyone else, and as much right to receive covered emails as opponents have to receive them when they GRAMA city government documents. I'm hard put to criticize him, even by implication, for using the same GRAMA statute opponents of Administration projects have used to get information about what's been going on.

It's obvious why you left you'se "hood in Brooklyn."

Thirty five years later, you still have no sack, Curmudgeon.

Jason W. said...

Old pal Short-deck:
Please quit writing about yourself in the third-person under various handles; it's quite transparent. Perhaps you should focus on how the economic shitstorm is going to affect jacket sales. Have a good day and notch orders for many mittens!

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

lionel said...

Curmudgeon

Your comment above about the mayor's business acumen was spot on! This is the exact rationale that he used on the 25th street condo situation. He didn't care if it went broke or not as the units would then sale at a lower price and still end up on the tax rolls. What he totally ignored was the fact that the city and the tax payers had $2 million in the deal and all of it was lost! But hey, he was right in that the units were sold - tho at a much reduced price, and then only with more city subsidies - and viola! they are on the city tax rolls, although at a highly reduced tax rate.

Some business genius we have on nine! He doesn't care how much of his investor's (tax payers) money he looses on each deal. Hell man, he'll just make it up in volume!!

This dolt couldn't hold a job in private industry at even a low level manager job and yet here he is making very stupid and repeated business decisions with millions of public money.

danny said...

Great comments above, but it seems we are covering the same ground somewhat.

Bill C. figured it all out days ago. Godfrey told the Windsor investors (if you can call them that) that he and his staff would snooker their VW popup design past the council. Now we learn the investors even got a loan on that basis. So they were lied to and reamed by Godfrey, not the council.

On another subject, I note that for the past year or more the DJI has been in a real downward trend channel, as has been the Nas-100. Monday, both of these slammed into the bottom side of that channel and bounced off (thus today's rebound.) The interesting thing is the banking index IYF and Russell 2000 have been riding the roof of their downward channel or even going above. IYF especially, is on the roof even now.

But the Russell 2000 companies are losing money on average and the banks are losing even more. So why are they riding high? (Note SKF is the inverse of IYF, and has been hugging the bottom of its channel, or below.

Interesting discrepancy perhaps? Anybody want to comment?

BTW, don't spend too much time on this stock stuff; you'll waste your life.

Curmudgeon said...

Danny:

Well, one reason is today the feds "loosened" the accounting rules, particularly the "mark to market" rule, and so the banks and brokerages will now, again, be able to pretend they have assets on the books that they don't.

In a quick survey, accountants do not like the loosening of the rules for valuing assets, but bankers love it.

Big surprise, right?

danny said...

Curm,

Good point.

They say they need to bring back confidence in the banking sector so Libor rates will drop and banks will lend to each other.

So how do they instill confidence? By letting the banks continue to lie. Big confidence builder.

Also, the Irish government just guaranteed all banking assets and senior bank debts. I suspect the US will do something similar very soon as well. This will make the banks pop until people realize they are still on the hook and losing money.

I wonder if home sales will continue to collapse, as private citizens decide to wait all this out rather than buy. After all, the Prez and all his fat cats say the economy is about to crash.

Ouch.

I agree that in years gone by the gummint had some very good programs. I'm afraid those days may have passed.

dan s. said...

Why should we believe that the developers really had a loan approved and were ready to go with this project? Is there even a market in Ogden for $800,000 condos? I strongly suspect the project was ready to fold anyway, and the council's vote merely gave them a scapegoat.

At least they're not blaming their failure on the lack of a gondola.

ozboy said...

Dan

Damn man, for a physicist you sure are hip to real world machinations!

Eight hundred grand condos on two bit street in Ogden during a general real estate collapse? Hell yes, everything is possible in MattGodfreyworld, ya just gotta have faith and drink your cool aid every morning. Ask "G" Train, she can tell you how it works.

Curmudgeon said...

dan:

You wrote:
At least they're not blaming their failure on the lack of a gondola.


Give them time....

Jason W. said...

But beloved Dan S.:

"The future of our city is at stake. We must fight back. Again, this comes from the east bench."

Ooopps! Now some deranged kid who wears his wife's jeans is going to expose my anti-business bias! More to come! Shhhhhh! It's a secret! Cavendish thinks this is tyranny!

"Take the next step! Take the next step! Take the next step!"

Incidentally, I am* planning a "high-adventure douchebags get the f--- outta OTown fall bash" at my house; I will make the date, time and location known (and naahhhh, Geigers, beware of the restricted firearm-allowed entry; my Squirrel Patroller neighbor will not be pleased; do you think Bernie Allen will dejay for me? "Spin those faggot THE GONDOLA records for me, Bern-dog, spin 'em!"

"Take the next step! Take the next step! Take the next step!"

Oh, and this:

"There is a pretty little place called Ogden. A bird sings of it, he sings the song of hope ... it's a pretty little bird ...only in Ogden..."
-THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

*Could be false.

THE SKI IS BEAUTIFUL BLUE

Bill C. said...

I went to these guys website, could have been written from lying little matty's campain materials, or by the same dolts, complete with all the inaccuracies as well.
The firt line on their webpage, claims the Golden Spike was driven here. I didn't know that. The gondola is going to Snow Basin, yea. The visionary mayor bought six blocks of the most delapadated downtown close to 25th st. to create his Junction. Truth be told, the old mall was probably the newest structure in all of the downtown area. Hell potato nose even gets a mention. These guys are a joke. For their greed we sacrifice the integrety and future of our whole Historic district?
These guys have been involved intimately with Harmer, Brown and Montgomery from the begining, whether they had secure financing or not isn't really the issue. They were used as a tool, by our administration to circumvent the Council which stands in the way of their own greedy desires for the rest of the historic district. Bernie was right, this wasn't about the Windsor, it's about how big of buildings Brown and his buddies can build on the infil properties they hold.

Curmudgeon said...

Comment bumped to front page

Stephen said...

Hey! I understand the Council has had an offer for the Windsor Hotel!

Moroni McConkie said...

Stephen: Do tell. More, please.

Stephen said...

Moroni,

I really can't divulge more at this time as real estate deals are confidential until all details are tied down. But I can say it is a local investor and someone who will respect the historic value of the property.

Moroni McConkie said...

Good news if genuine. To have pounced so quickly, this entity must have anticipated Ogden Properties' meltdown and been eager for its own chance.

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