Urban Designer Says Planned Recreation Center is Risky

Urban Designer Says Planned Recreation Center is Risky

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- An urban designer brought to Ogden by a group opposed to a proposed recreation center bond issue says the high-adventure recreation center is too risky.

"The private recreation area proposal, when presented as a panacea for downtown redevelopment, doesn't seem to supply enough reward for the risk ... not enough bang for your buck," Howard M. Blackson III of HB3 Urban Design in San Diego, said in a written report following Ogden visit last week.

Blackson said his visit was funded by Citizens and Businesses Concerned for Ogden's Future, which contends the recreation center should be financed by private investors, not taxpayers.

Ogden's best chance to lure pedestrians and permanent residents downtown rests with an intermodal hub near Union Station that will be part of a commuter rail line from Pleasant View to Salt Lake City slated for completion in 2008, Blackson said.

"Ogden's downtown is lacking permanent residents, in my opinion, necessary to support a robust economy. More homes should be built downtown and on the 20-acre (mall) site," Blackson said. "Commuter rail performs great for housing, work and regional recreation, such as the baseball stadium (Lindquist Field) and Ogden River Parkway. People will travel long distances for regional recreation, to live and to earn a paycheck. They do not travel as far to spend a paycheck."

He also recommended that most of the 20 acres at the mall site be used for housing to support local jobs and businesses if Ogden's intention is to create a larger "town center" that includes retail stores, community centers and "civic spaces."

Mayor Matthew Godfrey told the Standard-Examiner that Blackson is misinformed about the viability of the recreation center project.

"His thoughts on the high-adventure recreation center are inconsistent with virtually every other urban planner, and, more importantly, developer we have spoken with about the project, and I'd suspect it's because he has not been given the accurate information about it," Godfrey said.

"His plan carries a lot more risk to the city since it would require us to bear the entire construction cost of the project, instead of less than half, and all of the operational costs," he said.

Sharon Beech, a member of the citizens group, endorsed Blackson's analysis about the benefit of commuter rail.

"It will take a lot of traffic off freeways and will bring people in and out of the city who may not want to drive," she said. "When people can be near mass transit, housing will spring up around it. But housing should be developed in a beautifying way that complements downtown."

The city proposes issuing $16.4 million in bonds to Health and Fitness Holding LC. The company, comprised of Fat Cats All Out Fun Center and Gold's Gym, would use the money to develop the recreation center at the site of the former downtown mall.

The city would own the recreation center building. About $8.9 million in bonds would be repaid through leases with Gold's Gym and Fat Cats, and $7.5 million in bonds would be repaid through tax increment funding from 10 redevelopment projects in Ogden.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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