“Disinterested, dis-invested, forgotten.” These words describe urban neglect. Cities nationwide have experienced what urban planners call the “donut hole effect,” wherein a city’s center languishes as a result of interconnected factors, including the loss of a single economic driver, unemployment, suburbanization and poor city planning. This set of seemingly unwelcome circumstances is exactly what attracted Paige Pitcher and Chris Parker to an 80-block area of Ogden.
Labeled “urban pioneers,” Paige and Chris earned master’s degrees from the U of U’s schools of planning and real estate development. The pair saw “good bones” in central Ogden–intact infrastructure, architecturally interesting buildings, diversity, walkability and mixed-use potential. “Downtown is resurging. The bench areas are well-established. What we’re doing is filling the gap in between,” Paige says. In 2011 the two formed the GIV Group, which combines a non-profit and entrepreneurial approach to community development. GIV Group balances commercial and community space. For every square foot of for-profit development, it also provides a square foot of development that directly benefits the community.
There is no single-purpose solution to getting a city back. Paige and Chris spent a conscious year assessing the wants and needs of the community. They were hyper aware that “a first new project in an area can either tank it or elevate it. We were outsiders, and 20-year olds,” Paige laughs, “so it was a long process of listening to everyone and going through a proving process with the city.”
The City of Ogden and GIV Group have turned out to be a mutually supportive partners. Paige cites Ogden’s “image problem” as its primary obstacle. Ogden made Forbes “Best Cities to Raise a Family” list, and is a noted National Geographic ‘Adventure Town.’ “For some reason,” she observes, “Ogden makes national news, but rarely makes local news. You can’t just make a ten percent improvement here. It has to be at least fifty percent or better for anyone to notice.” Ogden is committed to reclaiming and re-branding its image, and to serving the community. The city continues to attract the outdoor product industry and is working with Weber State University to bring the mobile app industry to the area. Mayor Mike Caldwell encourages them to “dream up ideas and do them,” Paige says.
Phase One of “Imagine Jefferson,” was completed in January of 2014. The $12.2 million venture is located in Ogden’s historic Trolley District on Jefferson Avenue between 25th and 27th streets. The development includes a triplex, 56 apartments with three associated commercial spaces, and the early 20th century neoclassical Weber College Gymnasium reused as a community building. A coffee roaster and Thai restaurant will occupy two of the three commercial spaces. The team utilizes green building practices, and their newly constructed “Belle House” triplex is the first Utah residential structure to be built with innovative, insulated building panels called SIPs. All residential units were 100 percent occupied upon project completion. “If you build the right container, you get the right contents.”
Paige and Chris saw that they had to attract what she calls “out-of-boxers,” and the new neighborhood demographics represent “the tip of the spear,” the people who first move into a transitional neighborhood ahead of more mainstream inhabitants. “Two-thirds of our residents identify as either artists or people who work for or own a small business,” she says. Affordability is a key attractor, and GIV Group can control low-income rent prices. “This is one of the only places where you can live on an artist’s income.”
Ultimately, Paige says the project is not as much about creating space as it is about “connecting dots, and creating something that no one else is doing. We’re just taking the pearls that are already here and stringing a new necklace.”