Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Windsor Hotel Again Arrives on the Discussion Front Burner

Your Weber County Forum blogmeister indulges in a little cathartic nit-picking

Ace Reporter Schwebke again brings up the subject of the Windsor Hotel this morning, with another Std-Ex Business Section story discussing the present dilemma. This morning's story however actually adds little to what has been earlier reported, which is essentially this:

1) Ogden Properties, the developer, still fails and refuses to perform its contractual obligations and complete the project according to the terms agreed in the original Development and Grant Agreements;
2) Now that the structure has been stripped to the brick and effectively gutted, the 25th Street Historic District is stuck with a commercially unusable building smack dab in the center of the district;
3) The developer has proposed demolishing the building as a "plan B" option;
4) Ready, willing and able "backup" buyers aren't exactly flying out of the woodwork.

Without going into a tedious rehash of the series of blunders that led to the current city/developer stalemate, we'll nevertheless tangentially nit-pick a little bit. First we'll take a couple of potshots at the accuracy of Mr. Schwebke's reporting:

1) Once again, Mr. Schwebke continues to mischaracterise the circumstances which led to the council's rejection of Boss Godfrey's proposed Historic 25th Street District zoning ordinance. Here are Schwebke's words from this morning's Std-Ex story:
Ogden Properties has abandoned its plans to renovate the hotel because the city council has refused to amend a height restriction ordinance to enable the addition of a fourth-floor penthouse.
As everyone who has even been casually following this story knows, the council's chief objection to the proposed ordinance amendment was its overbreadth. Rather than drafting a narrow ordinance aimed at creating a zoning variance affecting the single Windsor Hotel project only, Godfrey instead overreached, and stubbornly sought an increase in building height limits which would have affected the entire Historic 25th Street Historic District. Hopefully Mr. Schwebke will write this down so he doesn't repeat this aggravating mistake.

2) Again referring to Mr. Schwebke's morning text, we find this technical inaccuracy:
The company [Ogden Properties] has asked the city, which provided $288,000 in incentives last year to assist with renovation costs, to buy the hotel back.
If Ogden City were to buy the property from Ogden Properties, it wouldn't actually be"buying it back." According to our recollection, Ogden Properties and the original owner, Ruben Villalobos, were the buyers and sellers in the sale transaction; and Ogden City wasn't a party to that transaction at all. Neither Ogden City nor the Ogden RDA ever held title to the property either, so far as we know. If Ogden City were to be dumb enough to buy this property, it would be merely taking it off Ogden Properties' hands; that's all.

3) Lastly we'll snarkily comment that the current predicament provides even more evidence supporting the conservative proposition that city governments, especially those governed by the likes of Boss Godfrey, shouldn't meddle in what ought to be entirely private real estate transactions. For that we'll refer back to one of of our earlier WCF articles, published around the time of the Windsor sale transaction, from which we extract this text:
Notably, the new owners are reportedly a little foggy about the prospective use of their newly-acquired downtown property. They'll hopefully know more, once they've consulted with their architect and engineers.
Oddly, they're opting to turn a rent-generating property into a vacant one. That's their prerogative as property owners though, we guess.
Still we wonder if it might not have made more economic sense for these young and eager new property owners to have formulated their plans BEFORE they kicked out their paying tenants. [...]
As for the outgoing former property owner Villalobos, we suppose it was easier to just cut and run, with Boss Godfrey and his henchmen breathing down his neck.
As our readers will recall, the Windsor's previous owner, Mr. Vallalobos, already had his own plans for refurbishment of his Windsor Hotel property; but his 6-month projected timeframe wasn't good enough for Boss Godfrey. Instead of waiting for Villalobos to put together his own plans and financing for a Windsor remodeling, Godfrey issued an ultimatum, and forced Villalobos out:
Ruben Villalobos, the previous owner of the hotel, said the sale closed June 4, but declined to share the purchase price. According to Weber County property records, the hotel and the 0.12 acres it sits on are valued at $286,319.
Villalobos said he wanted to convert the building into an upscale dwelling when he originally bought it in 2004, but it wasn’t feasible at that time because there were many unsold residential units at the Union Square development on the other side of the street.
The Union Square units are all sold now, he said, and property values in the area have gone up. He said he is disappointed he couldn’t fix it himself.
“The city gave me an ultimatum, either sell it or clean it up,” Villalobos said. “I wanted to renovate it myself, but I guess the city wanted to get it done right away.”
He said he was about six months away from securing the necessary funding to clean and fix up the building.
“My plans were to keep it historical and make a bed & breakfast-type place,” Villalobos said.
Using our 20/20 hindsight, we can't but help speculate how much better Ogden City's situation would have been at this point, if Boss Godfrey had just kept his grubby mitts off the Windsor Hotel.

Nice work, Boss Godfrey! It's another fine mess you've gotten us into.

Comments, anyone?

14 comments:

Moroni McConkie said...

"Our staff says [Mr. Owens] didn't show any serious interest" in buying the Windsor, notes our shrewd and sagacious mayor.

Mayor, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye. YOU are the one who has never been serious about 25th Street.

curious 1 said...

Why did the article mention that Mr. Owens owned renatl property in Ogden, did this have any bearing on his intrest in the Windsor. Why doesn't the paper mention the owners of the building that burned on 27th since it seems not up to code with smoke detectors, that is more of a story.

Tom said...

It was interesting how Mr. Schwebke promoted the idea that the mayor and I do not see eye to eye on most issues. He set the Windsor story up with me being a critic of the mayor (like that is a rarity in these parts!) and then includes the mayor's snarky remarks about me not being a serious buyer in the first place. Neither one of these things has even a little tiny thing to do with the Windsor and rather it is worth saving or not.

The following is a comment I posted in the Standard on the article:

I was interested enough to drive to Ogden and tour the old junk pile! I was very careful in telling the Ogden real estate staff that I would only be interested in buying the Windsor if the deal were really good - the same as what the current owners got, and if there were any great architectural elements inside or outside of the building that were worth saving.

So the mayor is right, I was not a "serious buyer" from their point of view wherein they knew the true dilapidated nature of the building and they knew it didn't meet the criteria I told them I was looking for.

It seems as though my impression of the building matches all of the other's who have looked at it. Interesting that the mayor would only diminish my interest and not the other looky loos.
I love to save old buildings and stuff, but in my opinion there really isn't anything worth saving, or arguing over, as it pertains to the Windsor. I once heard an auctioneer describe a supposed antique: "It was junk then and it's junk now" A description that I believe fits the Windsor.

bullet sponge said...

I still have trouble understanding why the Mayor and his supporters put so much energy into ruining what's already good (25th street, trail system etc) rather than concentrate on things that REALLY need work. Like the half finished downtown, the Ogden River arson project, and empty buildings like Fred Meyer.

Oh and just as an aside and an indication of the "class" of these people, several of them (including Scott Brown, Sue Wilkerson, and Dori Mosher) decided to show up at the Weber County Heritage Foundation's annual meeting WITHOUT buying a membership to the WCHF, and ate a free meal (which the WCHF, a non-profit, had to pay for). I'm not sure why they showed up. They said nothing and the meeting went great.

jest observin' said...

Some people are born with what is called "class".

Scott Brown, Sue Wilkerson and Dori Mosher weren't so fortunate as to have been given any.

You've either got it or you ain't.

lucky me said...

And class is something that you either have or you ain't got it - it's not for sale-

monotreme said...

Mrs. Monotreme and I have had it with the S-E.

It's not any one precipitating event, although I told the circulation people that things had gone downhill since Don Porter left -- because they have.

It's just that we could use the $12/month for something else, and I've seen the paper take a long, slow slide past mediocrity into irrelevance. There is only one good writer left, Trentelman, and if I want to read the Stake Newsletter I'll join the church.

Sorry, Curm. I feel as you do about newspapers, and as a former newspaperman myself, it was an especially hard decision. It's been a long, long time since I haven't subscribed to the daily paper, but I just can't stomach the S-E any longer.

Curmudgeon said...

Mono:

There has been an, I think, noticeable lurch to the right on the op ed pages of late. We're getting more Scrips Howard stuff from the loopy right. Today, for example, we were treated to an amusing bit of fiction from one Star Parker [from the Scrips Howard stable]. She moans that Rahm Emanuel's recent speech about Obama's plans for the economy "sounded like a commissar from the Soviet Union." Among the reasons Ms. Star thinks the economy has tanked? "Godlessness." Sigh. This is what passes for serious analysis of the state of the economy on the SE's op-ed pages these days.

So I know what you're reacting to, Mono. Still.... you knew there was a still coming, right?... I keep thinking of that old story about a poker player on a business trip who came to a strange town. He checked into a hotel and asked the bell hop if there was a poker game in town. Bell hop said yes, only one though, and told him where to find it. But warned him "It's a crooked game."

Later that evening, much later, the bell hop was out drinking at the same bar which ran the poker game, and he saw the guest who'd asked him how to find the game, leaving. Bell hop said "But I told you it was a crooked game, didn't I?" Businessman answered: "Yes, but it was the only game in town."

I think pretty much the same way about the SE. It's the only game in town, and life in Ogden absolutely would not be better in any way if Ogden lost its home town paper. It's the only one we've got. So I'll continue to subscribe, and read, and go after it when it falls short of what I think my home town paper ought to be.

Because it is the only game in town....

Bill C. said...

Curm, the way in which the gondola examiner is covering this Windsor debacle as well as lying little matty's lying conniving ass is sickening. Anyone that has paid any real attention and attended the Council meetings knows this to be true.
The civics quiz should have had some sort of questions about the purpose and importance of a free press in this country and why it's imperative that they perform according to the higher calling that they should aspire to.
Sargent Carter of the imfamous squirrel patrol and con-man in chief of the gondola examiner isn't qualified to run the BIG NICKEL, let alone a daily paper that pretends to provide the public with real reporting and a hint of journalistic integrety.
They all seem to be spineless wimps, intimidated by a lying little midget with the termperment of a six year old.
I like having a locally based daily paper same as you, but, if it's dishonest and lazy in what it prints, what good is it?

Curmudgeon said...

Bill:

You ask: I like having a locally based daily paper same as you, but, if it's dishonest and lazy in what it prints, what good is it?

Well, two answers to that. First, the SE has done some stories, good ones, regarding the administration and public policy that folks here at WCF praised, and deservedly so. Recall the editorial and expose on Leshamvillage that ran in the SE this year. And there have been others. The Mayor to take trolley junket... headlined that way... was another. Absent that, I don't think most folks would know he was going. So the SE does serve a useful purpose even if the coverage is tilted toward Hizzonah more often than we'd like.

Second: the paper contains a whole lot more than just reportage on Gondola Godfrey and His Gaggle. Not everyone focuses only on coverage of Hizzonah and Gang. I read the sports pages, stories on other local matters [including recent ones on the Ogden Canyon lime kiln] interesting to me, local events reporting, various features, reporting on water matters, and so on. I find out a lot about what's upcoming in Ogden via the SE. And it takes editorial stands on a lot of other matters I think important, such as the recent one on children's medical insurance in Utah, and a couple recently on ethics reform for legislators. And it was "right" on both issues.... right as in "correct," not right as in Bush wingnut right.

So if you read only Godfrey linked coverage, and consider only that, you and Mono might have a convincing point. But the SE covers and reports on a great deal more than that. And keeping that more expansive coverage of Ogden matters in mind... not only Ogden politics... and recognizing that there is nothing else in the area that does that job, I think your argument and Mono's is not convincing.

Ogden is a news-pimple on the butt of the SL media. As long as that continues to be so, the SE is absolutely important to Ogden city and worth buying.

Curmudgeon said...

Mono and Bill:

Couple of good examples in this morning's paper of why the SE is still worth buying and reading. There's an interesting story on wild swans migrating through the Great Salt Lake. And a front page story on Chief Greiner re-introducing his gang control bill in the legislature, link here.

Stephanie DeGraw said...

I'd encourage the city to either work something out with the current owner, like make a zoning exception so renovation can MOVE FORWARD, or assist in finding another buyer for this historic hotel. Tearing it down defeats the mission of Historic 25th Street. There are many options for it; bring in a large anchor store to draw in more visitors locally, have one of kind shops for tourists featuring Utah products, condos, music, museum, etc. This area is one of the first things folks experience when getting off the Front Runner, so lets make a good impression. Tourists and locals would further enjoy Historic 25th Street and in turn helps the local economy. Let's work together to find a solution.

Moroni McConkie said...

Ms. DeGraw: I think people on all sides of the Windsor Hotel donnybrook share your wishes for the Windsor's street frontage, in particular, and for 25th Street, in general.

But for those who have kept a close eye on the Street's revival for many years, and that may include you, there have already been so many unfulfilled aspirations. Recall the many exciting but unrealized businesses that were announced for the Greyhound Station before it retreated (tragically, in my view) into hibernation as the E-Station. The spiffy new Time Square Building houses Indigo Sage and Jasoh but even with those tenants can hardly be called a beehive of activity. And can anyone truthfully claim they've ever been in Trends and Traditions and seen another human being?

There may be an uncracked secret formula out there to lure the crowds back to 25th, but it surely coincides with an economic climate that is years away. You have as much right as anyone to dream and make suggestions. Let's hear them.

Stephanie DeGraw said...

Yes, it has been a long struggle to see everyone's dreams come true on 25th Street. But, as slow and painful as it seems, it is STILL happening and we need to keep up the positive energy to move forward.

We need to be aggressive now in pulling in more businesses/events to this area. I appreciate all the hard working folks, who have and continue to supported those who take the chance on one of the quaintest streets in the world, Historic 25th Street.

I just returned from a business trip to Nashville and found they were tearing down or replacing what used to be the draw of the city, the historic places and it broke my heart.

Nashville: feel the vibe of the golden age of country music, rich in history, friendly folks, comfortable like your favorite pair of blue jeans.

Nashville: worn smooth welcoming old buildings clashing withe the jarring glitz of glass high rises.

Nashville: a mix of past, present and future, won't someone blend them more smoothly before progress pounds away her gentle spirit.

I believe we can prevent such a fate for our downtown. I think we are blending progress with preservation so far and need to continue.

I challenge everyone to come up with suggestions for the city and follow through with communicating them to the powers that be.

I will be contacting some of the new connections I've made, to see if they might be interested in bringing a music venue that compliments the others down there but offers a different experience. There may be even a local person who would want to join in.

I also think we need to have a joint marketing plan shared with many groups to assist in getting the word out locally and regionally about our town. This plan would be separate from the vistors' bureau and the city's efforts and compliment it. I have a plan if you are interested, I can email it to you.
Love to hear others ideas too.

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