Preserving History in Modernity

City of Ogden, Utah

Ogden, Utah has a lot to be excited about. With a winning location, a diverse economy, a thriving downtown core, and abundant natural assets, the first established city in the state of Utah has also been ranked by Forbes as one of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities.
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Ogden grew up as a railroad city, playing the role as a primary passenger stopover for the military personnel and passengers traveling across the country from San Francisco to the east. The city developed as a result, becoming a railroad boom town from the early 1900s until the 1950s when the economic optimism from the boom began to fade.

Between 1950 and the late 1990s, the city had fallen into a period of decay, with the population shrinking from 85,000 to approximately 60,000 over that time. Post-1990s the city has found new opportunities to develop, providing a convenient location for manufacturing and commerce. Providing the infrastructure required to support those developments has made Ogden one of the highest job creators per capita in the United States, with a breadth of growth across diverse industry clusters including outdoor recreation, advanced manufacturing, the IT/software sector, and more.

Today, the city has been rated first on CNN Money Magazine’s list of most affordable US cities, taking into consideration both wages and home prices, and city officials are excited about what the future has to hold. To be sure, Ogden’s location is one of its largest assets. Speaking with Mike Caldwell, the Mayor of Ogden, you get a real sense of the value of the city’s natural resources. “From where I am sitting in my office right now in City Hall,” he explains, “I could be twenty minutes buckling up my ski boots on a world-class Olympic downhill run.” Ogden has close access to a number of ski resorts within a twenty to thirty-minute drive from the downtown core, and a wealth of other outdoor assets such as hiking and biking trails, fishing, and climbing.

The very traditional downtown has been modernized to provide a number of amenities, including over ninety independent restaurants and a number of retail options. The city is placing a great deal of emphasis on developing additional retail, commercial and residential opportunities while preserving the history and character of the civic core.

Ogden enjoys close to ninety linear miles of parkway trails that connect to the mouth of the Ogden Canyon. Ogden is also home to one of the only urban Blue Ribbon fisheries in the western United States. “You can come downtown, go to work, go out for lunch and go fishing on a Blue Ribbon fishery within ten minutes of where your office is located,” adds Director Community and Economic Development Tom Christopulos.

Additionally, two rivers converge in Ogden’s downtown. The Ogden River was full of debris and waste. A total of sixteen different agencies were able to clean it and reclaim it. “Year over year, we are able to take on more innovative types of community-based projects and clean-up projects and development projects,” says Christopulos. The city recently completed the Grant Avenue Promenade, making it what they call ‘a complete street’ for cyclists and pedestrians, further enhancing the city’s downtown.

Economic development in Ogden is built upon four mission areas: business retention and expansion, business attraction, community capitalization and community development. Mayor Caldwell explains, “We have a real robust economy here with a real unique selection in terms of what kind of jobs are available and income levels. When we had the downturn several years ago, the big recession, we didn’t get hit nearly as hard as a lot of other communities because we have such a diverse economy.”

Luckily, the necessary infrastructure in Ogden already existed; it was just a matter of building upon that foundation. As Christopulos mentions, “We’ve been able to redevelop utilizing those, what we call, good old bones, building off them, enhancing them where we’ve needed to, improving them to give us a core urban flavor, because we look a lot like a 1900 community.”

Over the past seven years, the city of Ogden has enjoyed an investment of over $1.5 billion in vertical construction, which includes a number of projects and initiatives. Historical 25th Street, formerly known for its illicit activities in the early twentieth century, has been designated as one of the five most beautiful streets in the United States. It has been fully restored and has maintained Ogden’s boomtown cityscape in the face of modernity, providing a balance of 130 year old homes and modern builds, increasing diversity in the civic core.

After the 1990s, when the city was in a state of disrepair, decisions were made to redevelop the Business Defense Depot into Business Depot Ogden (BDO), the first of many visible improvements that would help Ogden regain its economic strength and vitality. One of the largest business parks in the western United States, BDO has served as a masthead project in Ogden, helping to attract a number of businesses to the community. With over 6,000 employees, it promises continued expansion.

Weber State University, a local institution attended by 28,000 students, has formed a joint venture with the economic development administration called Startup Ogden. The initiative has made significant economic progress in Ogden. Startup Ogden provides a space and resources to enhance Ogden’s community of startups and entrepreneurs, helping to incubate them to the successful business stage. Weber State University also creates tailored training programs to support Ogden businesses.

Efforts have been undertaken to reclaim blighted areas in Ogden. The Riverbend Project has turned into another masthead project for the community. Over one hundred parcels of land that were individually owned and falling into ruin along the Ogden River were reclaimed by the project and Riverbend is a now a major housing project in the downtown area. Its aim is to help to bring people to the civic core, enhancing the area with parks, trails and open spaces that will make Riverbend a neighborhood in demand.

The IRS has added 3,000 jobs over the last ten years, increasing the employment opportunities available in the city. The first two phases of its growth was in historic buildings though it had to construct a new building in its third phase of development to accommodate the growth. Additionally, Homedepot.com and Esurance, a division of Allstate, are two of many Fortune 50 companies that have decided to call Ogden home.

Ogden also boasts more than 2,000 employees in the outdoor recreation sector who help to enrich the community in terms of its accessibility to nature and the outdoors. Post-Olympics, community leaders got together to ensure that Ogden’s mountain-to-metro accessibility was continued, emphasizing the strengths of its natural location and unique qualities.

Economic development is not the only thing contributing to Ogden’s community improvement. Ogden is home to the Ogden Utah Temple, an LDS temple built in the 1970s. Recently, the Temple, as well as the Tabernacle and surrounding areas, underwent significant remodeling efforts that attracted just under a million visitors to Ogden for six weeks during its open house in August and September.

Ogden has a significant tourism infrastructure in place to support the many events and attractions in the area. The city has seen the construction of a couple of new hotels to support expected infrastructure growth over the next several years. Ogden is even home to a rodeo, The Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo, recognized as one of the five largest Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos in the United States, a significant event to be held in a population of 80,000 people.

Ogden has been proactive in its growth, ensuring that a number of community partners have been established to support this development and success. As the city continues to develop diverse opportunities for residents, it is simultaneously creating a culture of volunteerism, with residents giving back to the community that has been so good to them; in fact, Ogden has been ranked among the nation’s top mid-sized cities for volunteerism by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

As Christopulos notes, “We’re really interested in being a community that’s working together to achieve – to move the community forward to really make progress. What we do is to make sure that anyone who chooses to live in Ogden has opportunity.”

Taking Ogden’s infrastructure, strong employment base, an active and educated community and a good quality of life makes Ogden an attractive place to both live and do business.

With the skiing, fishing, hiking and proximity to the many other offerings of the great outdoors, Ogden is naturally poised for continued success. By continuing to improve blighted areas, increasing its downtown population and ensuring that opportunities exist for its residents, Ogden is taking a wise approach to economic and community development.

It is amazing for a city that has already been built out to experience the growth that Ogden has. “We just found ways to incorporate that new growth with some of our old history and historic neighborhoods, and it’s been a really gratifying experience to be a part of,” Mayor Caldwell shares. The results are a testament to the commitment of city staff, elected officials and committed residents to maintain the historical fabric of Ogden while moving the city forward into modernity.

November 19, 2017, 3:42 AM EST