Ogden converting 25th Street structure into information center for visitors

Sunday , March 11, 2018 - 5:00 AM4 comments

OGDEN — What was a cafe and food stand in the heart of downtown Ogden is morphing into an informational and ticketing center focused on events and happenings around the city.

“Anything in the community, we’re hoping to promote,” said Mark Johnson, chief administrative officer for the city of Ogden, which owns the small, stand-alone structure and is spearheading the change. “It’s probably something we should have done a long time ago.”

The new locale on the southwest corner of 25th Street and Washington Boulevard, to be named The Corner, is to open sometime in May and operate Monday through Saturday, Johnson said. It will replace the Ogden Municipal Gardens Cafe, the food and snack stand that left on Feb. 1 after operating out of the location since September 2012.

Kim Bowsher, executive director of Ogden Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit group that promotes business in the city center, lauded the idea of an informational center. Her group wasn’t involved in the plans, but she’s familiar with the city initiative.

“I think it’s been the idea for the location all along... It’s nice we can have a place to direct people to,” she said. She sees it as catering to locals, tourists and other visitors alike.

Though tourist information is available at the Visit Ogden office at 2438 Washington Blvd., that entity — with a focus on promoting the area to outside visitors — isn’t designed to handle regular pop-in customers, Bowsher said. And though information is available at hotels and on fliers posted outside some 25th Street businesses, that’s not the same as a manned locale at a high-profile area like the 25th Street-Washington Boulevard intersection.

“We’re looking to make it more of a community information place where people can find out what’s going on,” Johnson said.

The high-traffic location — adjacent to Ogden City Hall, the Ogden Amphitheater, the annual Christmas Village display and the Farmers Market Ogden corridor on 25th Street — is the big draw. He envisions the locale providing information on area happenings and activities and selling tickets to Ogden Twilight Concert Series shows, Peery’s Egyptian Theater events and more.

The structure dates to the late 1980s and originally served as a ticket booth for Utah Transit Authority riders.

‘IT WAS HORRIBLE’

Despite the enthusiasm of city boosters, the change isn’t sitting well with everybody.

Leasa Ray and Rick Lefler, who had operated the Ogden Municipal Gardens Cafe, say the city unfairly pulled the lease that had allowed them to use the space. They opened the business in 2012, selling fresh-squeezed lemonade, cotton candy and more, and the lease gave them the right to use the space until June 2019, they say.

“Right from the beginning, the absolute beginning, it was horrible,” Ray said.

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The city stymied their efforts to place a taco cart near the business and signage, among other things, she said. In 2012, the locale generated headlines after some complained about a sign reading “Happy Birthday Jesus” posted on the building ahead of Christmas by the cafe operators.

Lefler said he and Ray invested heavily in the structure.

“Based on that, they just could have been honorable and ethical and let us finish our lease and then take the building back,” he said.

RELATED: Ogden cafe owner: Jesus sign to stay, despite complaint

Johnson said city officials first approached the cafe operators in late 2016 about plans to install the information center, initially asking them to vacate the location by April 2017.

He maintains that the city — as property owner — had the right to pull the lease, but that the provision, for some reason, was not included in a sublease Downtown Ogden Inc. — then a city contractor — drew up letting Lefler and Ray open their cafe. Downtown Ogden Inc., now defunct, had handled promotional and marketing events for the city.

Given the confusion, Johnson said city officials delayed the plans, letting the Ogden Municipal Gardens cafe stay through January of this year. 

“We made a deal to try to be as kind as we could and (make it) a little less painful,” he said.

Nonetheless, Ray said she consulted an attorney who advised her that she had a strong case against the city action. The cost of a legal fight, however, would be prohibitive, she said, which has kept her from going to court.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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