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Ogden city: no more second fiddle.


No More Second Fiddle

Ogden used to evoke images of abandoned rails glistening in the sun, winos cruising the red-light district on Two-Bit Street, blue-collar workers punching the time clock. These images are fast fading into memory with Odgen's intense development efforts.

Long-accustomed to playing second fiddle to Salt Lake City, Ogden wants to lure high-tech aerospace companies to town, to woo customers downtown again, to encourage passersby not to pass right through.

"Look at our trend lines--they're up, up, up," said Ogden booster Scott Parkinson. As executive director of The Chamber Ogden-Weber, Parkinson's job is to make Ogden feel better about itself.

Trend Lines Going Up

The trend lines Parkinson is talking about deal with room rentals, but he could be talking about the community as a whole. Leaders say they're poised to move on a significant downtown development that would raze decrepit buildings and replace them with a contemporary convention facility.

Funding for the multimillion-dollar dream is undecided, but the Weber County Convention is considering imposing a tax on restaurant food to build the convention center. Plans are in an embryo stage, but could include everything from a revamped. Egyptian Theatre to classrooms for Weber State University's continuing education program.

A War Plan That Worked

Fifteen years ago, downtown was on the verge of death as businesses followed their customers to the suburbs. Many merchants fought the trend, failed, and closed up shop.

Fearful for the economic future, city leaders put together an ambitious plan to build a mall. A $50 million redevelopment effort was started, and the result is the thriving Ogden City Mall, home to four significant anchor tenants. The mall breathed new life into the central business district.

There's a common concern among downtown businesspeople that the mall killed off Washington Boulevard businesses. The answer is an equally compelling argument that downtown would have died sooner if the mall had been built on 12th St. or anywhere but where it is.

"Our mall has more anchors than just about any other mall in the state," Parkinson said. "It's a great benefit to downtown, but we're learning that it isn't enough to keep people down here after 5 p.m. That's our next challenge."

Mall manager Kae Barber has a vision of downtown that extends past the mall walls. She's lobbying with a group of merchants for an end to the criss-cross of one-way streets downtown, for angled parking on the newly widened Washington Boulevard, and for a parkway along the banks of the Ogden River.

"Anything to keep people downtown," she said. "That's what we need. But we have to be sure that what we do has a reason."

Ogden Scores Some Victories

Ogden has scored some victories in the past several years:

* The consolidation of business development efforts into the umbrella organization called The Chamber Ogden-Weber has focused the city's efforts and saved money by eliminating duplication, Parkinson said. * Establishment of a new tourism and convention bureau and a business development center under the Chamber's umbrella has improved the city's profile and given small businesses help in finding startup dollars. * A pledge from Weber State University to develop a partnership with business signals a chance for improvements throughout the region. The university has created a new vice presidency to deal with business partnerships and is aggressively pursuing the possibility of moving some of its operations off campus to downtown, Parkinson said. * A new downtown conference center has been approved. As part of this effort, the Egyptian Theatre may be redeveloped as an art center and the Eccles Building may become a downtown campus for Weber State. * Thiokol Corp. chose Ogden for its corporate headquarters. Thiokol anchors the downtown business community in its custom-built, green-glass building. Amalgamated Sugar also chose a site in downtown, renovating an ugly corner into a marked asset.

That's not to say things are completely rosy. Problems include:

* The railroad, once the county's most important industry, has all but abandoned Ogden. An ambitious plan to turn abandoned rail yards into a business park has proved too expensive, so the land sits unused. * Confusion exists between government and the Downtown Ogden Association over the role of the merchant's group. President Joe Terry said he's negotiating to work things out. * Indecision has hampered development efforts downtown for years, Barber said. "We just do a lot of talk about talking, but nothing ever gets implemented." She is impressed by the talk of a convention center, but said she's not entirely optimistic or certain that a convention center is the answer.

Ogden's former red-light district is now labeled "Historic 25th Street" and is the address of a growing number of restaurants, antique shops, and specialty stores.

"Things are coming alive on two-five drive," quipped Dean Perkins, who owns the building that once housed the Belmont Rooms, one of the city's finest houses of prostitution. "We don't want to be known as Two-Bit Street anymore," Perkins said.

Perkins and his neighboring landlords have invested millions, he said, in improving the portion of the street that runs from Union Station on the west to Washington Boulevard.

"Check us out," Perkins said. "You'll like it."

Kristine M. Loosley is a reporter for the Ogden-based Standard-Examiner.
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Title Annotation:Ogden, Utah is engaged in intense development efforts
Author:Loosley, Kristine M.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Provo: how to change for the better.
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