Sunday, November 16, 2008

Retort to This Morning's Standard Examiner Editorial

Our home town newspaper's chirpy optimism spills over into babbitry and boosterism

By Curmudgeon

The Sunday Standard Examiner's lead editorial this morning lauds Ogden's "upbeat local economy." It speaks of new businesses spawned and fledged at the Business Depot Ogden now moving out to expanded quarters and business. It speaks of other Top of Utah businesses doing well... ATK, Alliant Technologies, etc... and it even pats itself on the back for being one of the few dailies in its size category not downsizing and losing circulation.

And then this:
The Economist, a respected British magazine, recently did an article on why Utah's economy is soaring above its neighbors in the West.... The article also cites local and state leadership as a plus, singling out Gov. Jon Huntsman and Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey for their corporate recruiting skills. "Ogden, until recently a decaying railway town north of Salt Lake City, has quietly become the world centre of winter sports equipment," the article states. "Mike Dowse, who oversees brands such as Atomic and Salomon for Amer Sports, gives three reasons: 'the mountains, the mayor and the money.'" While we understand recent developments, including the announcement of budget cuts by Godfrey, indicate that Top of Utah isn't immune to the economic turmoil affecting the rest of the country. However, how well the state has been weathering the storm so far is reassuring. If things do get worse before they get better, we have the system in place to best handle the challenge.
Let's clear away this first: Mayor Godfrey's effort to attract outdoors-oriented companies to Ogden, and to try to rebrand Ogden as an outdoor tourist destination were both good ideas, and have had some good results for the city, and he deserves credit for that. And I've no problem with the Std-Ex providing the occasional and deserved pat on the back to Hizzonah.

However, in order to be credible in its praise of the local economy, and the Mayor's role in it, the Std-Ex needs also to recognize some of the problems created by the "local leadership" and the questionable [to say the least] calls it has made. Dividing the city for years and sinking tens of thousands of public money into promoting his personal [and foolish] flatland gondola obsession is but one example. Campaigning to sell the city's largest park to a real estate developer to pay for the flatland gondola is another. There are more, mostly involving the debt the city has taken on under his leadership, and the consequences of that debt if major elements of the development the mayor has sold to the Council and the citizens don't pan out as hoped, and if city tax revenues continue to shrink in the deepening recession.

Was down at Sonora Grill yesterday [it's arrival at The Junction was a good thing for Ogden, as was the arrival of Iggy's Sports Bar at the same location], and noticed a realtor's banner on the unfinished Earnshaw Building at The Junction, which was to be the first of several condo developments coming on line. The banner said simply "Available." I did some checking and found Kristin Moulton's article in the SL Trib dated June 22 this year, reporting that: "Unfortunately, lease revenue from the rest of the mall has fallen short, he said. On Tuesday, the City Council will be asked to tap into the flush coffers of Business Depot Ogden to help cover $819,000 more of The Junction's debt payments. Already, the city was using $750,000 in BDO funds to pay mall debt this year. Arrington said some of the shortfall was in property-tax revenue since development of Phase 1 has been slow. "

Ms. Moulton also reported in the article that "The first owners of condos in the tallest building - the six-story Earnshaw Building - should be able to move in later in the summer, according to developer David Earnshaw."

Here it is, mid-November, and the building is not finished and is not occupied so far as I could see. Ms. Moulton also spoke to the owners of the groundfloor retail space in the Earnshaw Building:
"The largest retail space in The Junction, the ground floor of the Earnshaw building, has not yet been leased. But Dan Musgrave, who bought the space with two other Ogden investors, Bill Hancock and Gordon James, said he expects to have it leased in 90 days. The partners are talking to health-food stores, day spas, doctors and restaurants, he said. When he bought the property, Earnshaw said he wanted to attract a grocery store.The partners are talking to health-food stores, day spas, doctors and restaurants, he said. When he bought the property, Earnshaw said he wanted to attract a grocery store."
Yet as of October 25th, the ground floor, all 18K square feet of it, was being listed for sale [not leasing] on LoopNet [which lists commercial properties for sale].

And the Well's Fargo office block at the Southeaat corner of The Junction is not yet fully leased, after being open for the better part of a year. That's the building the Mayor asked the city council to add another floor to, at the city's entire risk for construction and leasing, because the Mayor thought Ogden lacked sufficient good office space. [By a one vote margin, the Council spared the city that continuing drain on its coffers.] One thought to be signed restaurant for The Junction has pulled out.

So there seem to me to be reasons for some concern that ought to temper the Editorial Board's optimism and confidence in the business judgment of the current administration, and reasons to question the Std-Ex's certainty that we have "the system in place" to handle increasing economic adversity. What "system" would that be, I wonder? Congratulatory editorials are fine, as are editorials expressing confidence in the city's economic future. But such editorials, if they are to be credible, must also take into account the evidence on the other side, so that they reach in the end... and take their readers along on the trip... reasonable and balanced conclusions. When an Editorial Board looks only at the upside, and ignores the downside, when it looks only at successes and ignores failures, or when it cavalierly counts not-yet-proven-projects as successes already achieved, then it risks slipping over from exercising sound editorial judgment into Babbitry and Boosterism. We have a Chamber of Commerce infatuated with flatland gondolas for that. We expect... and Ogden needs... better than that from the Standard Examiner editorial board. We're not getting it.


Moroni McConkie said...

I suspect I am not the only reader here who believes that Curmudgeon's piece has intercepted the ball he alleges (correctly) the Standard-Examiner fumbled in today's editorial. Its blind encomiums to our incompetent child mayor are ludicrous. I'll concede that Doug Gibson can be a whiz at quoting chapter and verse from the Docturne-'n'-Cov'nants (just as the Chinese had memorized Mao's quotations during the Cultural Revolution). But to exhibit such cluelessness when it comes to Godfrey's borrow-'n-spend municipal machinations does nothing to bolster the Standard's editorial integrity.

Moroni McConkie said...

Further to Curmudgeon's reporting on the struggling (and for now, floundering) Earnshaw Condominiums at The Junction: It's much worse than Ms. Moulton's June piece in the Trib lets on.

From the S-E of Jan. 18, 2006: Construction on the Earnshaw will begin in March 2006 and should last "about a year."

S-E, Feb. 21, 2006: Earnshaw has pre-sold 26 of 28 of the condos. Earnshaw said "I've never sold a building that has had so many units sold before construction." Construction to start "within a couple of months."

S-E, Jan. 9, 2007: Work is "progressing" on the Earnshaw condos. [Mind you, they should have been close to completion by now.]

SL Trib, June 13, 2007: the Earnshaw condos "began construction this spring." [In other words, although they were alleged to be underway in Jan. 2007, they weren't.]

So the Earnshaw condos were touted to those first 26 buyers -- if ever they existed -- as ready for occupancy in March '07. They are now nearly two years behind schedule, hardly an outcome expected of a building that was sworn to be almost 100% pre-sold.

It appears that Ogden has about the same number of honest developers as other American cities. And the Standard-Examiner's best friend always seems to be the last developer (or mayor) it listened to.

danny said...

Great job from Curm today.

And as far as the SE editorial, well, fools never learn and the stupid always are. We know what to expect from the SE. Sad but true. I am glad to hear they hope to survive as a newspaper though. They are a valued part of the community, to me at least.

drewmeister said...

umm, i think i just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Anonymous said...

SE needs new editor and fresh entergetic investigative reporters for a change.

They will not take on nor expose the Realtor Association nor the Commissioners and apparently will not do anything about the Attorney General or the Mayor.

Folks we used to call this situation "a target rich environment" yet all the editors can do is swill from the same cup and keep their heads firmly placed up their own behinds.

The Standard Examiner is not doing its job under Gibson's reins. And it is not serving our community as a newspaper should. It has sold out to the Realtor Association and its advertisement revenues, increased the cost of running classified until they are completely out of the question and unreasonable. And now every time I kick back to read the morning news...the only thing in it is the fact the delivery person delivered it ontime. The rest is soft news or rerun news reported days earlier on TV or the internet.

Where have all the journalists gone? Where are the sharp investigative reporters who should be reporting the facts about Ogden and Weber County. How it is being run and by whom ... for whom?

I am canceling my subscription in protest. If and when they get their act together at the SE, I will resubscribe.

Bill C. said...

Is every Sunday editorial from the newly annointed blowhard gibson going to consist of unsubstantiated claims of lying little matty successes? Unlike Curm, I can't recall any. High adventure artificial indoor recrecreation is embarrassing, let's be honest. Velodromes, artificial ice towers, urban flatland gondolas, gondola hotels with wading pools, urban campgrounds for rock climbing junkies miles from the nearest rock, cliff or climbing feature. How much bullshit can the people swallow? If any of these things were possibly a good idea a resourceful entrepreneur would be proposing and doing them and other than permits, there would be no City envolvement.
Please note the only person quoted in gibson's Sunday defication is jackass dowse. Please don't forget that the jackass has been well compensated for his mild abdominal discomfort and there fore only requires a minor squeazing of his nasal passage while offering kudo's for lying little matty.
Curm, gibson's a hack and probably should have stuck to his recaps of the daily hanity- limbaugh propaganda. Oh, but the public, hopefully, is soon to reject their BS as well. Maybe that's why gibson has turned to lying little matty, the crooked gop has been turned out nationally and for good reason. Only here in Utah, where them men are men and the sheep are nervous, so many sheep that still support their own raping.

Curmudgeon said...


The SE is entitled to its editorial POV, even if I don't share it. That, after all, is what editorials are for: expressing the paper's opinion on whatever. What concerns me about the editorials about city government of late is their Pollyanna tunnel vision. Even if they're going to take a stand I wouldn't --- never wise, of course, as all reasonable folk would agree, but if they insist --- they ought to argue their point, and make their case in a credible way. This always involves [in making a good argument] taking into consideration evidence on the other side of the point you want to make, and dealing with it. It never involves... not if you're interested in making a compelling case for your side... simply ignoring anything that doesn't support the conclusion you want to sell to readers. And that is what, seems to me, has been happening of late. From the tub-thumper leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, I expect that. It's what they do. From a good home town paper, however, no.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole Earnshaw Building/Ashton Square/etc. thing stinks. Either there is sheer incompetence on the part of the developers and city management or there is something fishy going on. How many developers can sit on construction and property for that long without going under?

Anonymous said...

I worked on the Earnshaw Building. Incompetence is a MILD way of describing that development. I can't believe that the city hasn't shut it down yet for lack of progress. That's the way it works in most municiplaities.

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