Crown Jewel of Ogden’s Surging Creative District
In 2015, Ogden revealed a plan to remake itself into a cultural hub to rival Salt Lake City. The Nine Rails Creative District Master Plan laid out a revitalization project aimed at turning large swaths of downtown Ogden into an arts corridor. Nearly five years in, the multimillion-dollar project is seeing increasing success thanks in part to an unlikely hero: an old parking garage.
A Storied History
The structure now known as The Monarch was unveiled in 1929 as a state-of-the-art auto shop and garage connected to the famed Reed Hotel (rebuilt as the Bigelow Hotel after a fire), one of Utah’s three original “grand hotels.”
The Reed was a top luxury hotel in the West during its time, perfectly placed to attract a steady stream of cross-continental road-trippers on the scenic route through the Rockies. But rugged pre-interstate highways took a toll on automobiles of the 1930s, so the architect of the Reed conceived an attractive new amenity: a full-service garage. While dusty travelers refreshed themselves in the luxe hotel, their cars would get a similar treatment in the shop next door.
As decades passed, the hotel was regularly maintained and restored, but later owners didn’t give the garage the same attention. A sequence of auto repair businesses moved in, then moved on. A few restaurants came and went. Eventually, the building fell into disrepair and was abandoned for a time.
About 80 years after its unveiling, it looked as if the garage would soon see its end. Much of the space was unoccupied and unmaintained. The roof sagged. The few holdout businesses faced expensive repairs. Ogden residents heard rumors that the albatross would be torn down.
Right around that time, Thaine Fischer first heard about the garage.
A New Lease
“It’s like, there’s this building — it’s falling in, the windows are broken, people want to tear it down — but it’s got so much history, and it’s important to the architectural legacy of the city,” Fischer says. “So how do we bring it back to life?”
Fischer Regan Enterprises, Fischer’s real estate business, decided to purchase the building with the aim of restoration and revitalization. Though Fischer didn’t know it yet, the reconstruction would lend the old garage a future far more glamorous than its past: It would soon become the creative hub and centerpiece of Ogden’s freshly-minted Nine Rails creative district.
The final plan divides the 60,000-square-foot structure into 40 creative studio spaces, restaurants, a curated exhibition space and event venues.
“The reason for creative studios is that we saw retail businesses having real challenges,” Fischer says. “We knew the future of retail would be tough, but the creative space was really coming online. We’re starting to see a lot of co-working spaces and popups, so we really tried to attract Ogden’s creative people that way.”
“Creative people” doesn’t refer only to visual artists and graphic designers, Fischer explains. The spaces will be leased to creatives of any caste, from tattoo artists to architects.
A Creative Collaboration
Fischer’s plans went far beyond the simple restore-and-flip method HGTV made so popular.
“We really believe creatives need to come back to the center of the city and start creating again,” Fischer says. “So, we did a lot of work with nonprofit community arts organizations and the city council. We got input from all different individuals and perspectives.”
During a nearly decade-long planning process, Fischer collected input and perspectives from the National Register of Historic Places, Weber State University, several community development entities, Ogden City and one of New York’s largest art studios — to name just a few. The connections paid off as the city council integrated the renovation project into the development of their plans to create the Nine Rails Creative District.
Through a connection with Ogden nonprofit O1ARTS the building ended up with its defining feature and namesake: an enormous, multi-wall, monarch butterfly-themed mural titled “Monarch in Moda.” The mural, painted by internationally renowned artist Jane Kim, is one in a series of wildlife conservation-themed artworks by Kim across North America.
While the working name for the building was the Hodgson — after the building’s architect — Fischer worried that with such a distinctive facade, people would simply call it the butterfly building. “We thought we’d get in front of it and call it The Monarch,” he laughs.
A Success Story
The Monarch will hold its grand opening this fall. WB’s wine café and coffeehouse will open late summer as will the creative studios, which are filling up fast. Events have already taken place in the venues.
“Everything has really come together,” Fischer says. “There’s been incredible community interaction, and the project has had an impact that I never could have imagined.”