Nine Rails Creative District plan rolls out

Alyson Johnson

argo house.jpg
Photo credit: The Argo House

The Nine Rails Creative District is a hub for creatives and individuals in the Ogden area to come together and experience some of the amazing talent the city has to offer.

The Nine Rails Creative District is identified as the area between Wall and Madison avenues and 24th to 26th streets.

Although the district has been talked about and planned for years, in August 2018, the city council adopted the Nine Rails Creative District master plan, which laid out the vision for the creative district.

Sara Meess, the deputy division manager for Ogden City Business Development, said the inspiration for the name came from a combination of Ogden’s history as a railroad town and the nine muses of the arts in Greek mythology that each represented a different form of expression.

“The name fit because in the district we’re not just focused on fine art, like sculptures and paintings, we’re really focused on a wide variety of creative expressions,” Meess said.

In 2015, Ogden City received an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which helped fund the beginning stages of the creative district.

The city took on multiple pilot projects to test the idea of having a creative district, some of which were the murals on 25th Street and Adams Avenue, small video projections during the First Friday Art Stroll and the paintings in the crosswalks on 25th Street.

Ogden City, with Union Creative Agency, O1Arts, Ogden Downtown Alliance and other community partners, have been heavily involved in the district’s development, as well as the integration of arts throughout the city.

“The city really wants to increase the pedestrian access and appeal on 25th Street,” said Lauren Argo, the Nine Rails District liaison. “I have seen more of an effort from businesses to engage and communicate and also from the city involving the businesses as far as plans and getting their feedback.”

Argo said she hopes the creative district will increase the variety of activities people can do and experience in town.

“I hope it brings the vibrancy and experience and the fun and joy you get when you can experience art on all different levels: performance, spoken word, paintings and murals,” Argo said.

In the last decade, Ogden City has made a push to redevelop downtown Ogden and surrounding areas, in an attempt to create a safe area in which community members can gather and enjoy each other’s company.

Meess said they noticed a gap in the city where people could work and live if they were in the creative field.

“Lower 25th Street is already great for galleries and retail and there are incredible performing art studios throughout the city,” Meess said. “We didn’t want to duplicate something that was already great.”

The creative district offers free, creative spaces for individuals to take advantage of, including restaurants, office spaces and affordable apartments. Several developers have played a part in the development of the buildings and spaces making up the creative district.

Lauren Argo, along with her husband James, are the developers of a newly renovated project called the Argo House.

The Argo House offers creative work spaces accessible to the community and individuals that are available to rent. In addition to work spaces, it can be used to host meetings, retreats, live music functions and gatherings.

“We want the Argo House to be a resource for the arts community and be a place where art can be shown and made, but also encourage the entrepreneur side, such as small businesses that can work out of here,” Lauren Argo said.

The idea to have open office spaces was conceptualized as a beneficial way to give people the ability to access, collaborate and combine their efforts with others.

“We’re kind of like a family; we work in the same building, we know each other’s names, we know the projects we’re working on and then we can also team up if we need to,” Lauren Argo said.

In 2011, Chris Parker and a group of developers bought and redeveloped a large part of the block from Adams to Jefferson avenues and along 25th Street, which is now part of the Creative District.

Parker said that when looking for an area to start developing, Ogden stood out as a place with a variety of rare architecture and rich history.

“It seemed like it had a lot of momentum at the time. The downtown was starting to come back, but there were these pockets in the East Central area that could use more attention and new ideas,” Parker said.

Parker and his group of developers have developed 10-15 smaller projects in the East Central Ogden area, aside from the block of development that’s part of the Creative District.

“We really like the feel of it, the history of it and the proximity of it. It’s very rare that from your home downtown you can jog straight to a mountain trail and come back down to have something for dinner on a Saturday night, all from the same home,” Parker said.

The majority of the projects Parker and his team took on were abandoned buildings and empty parking lots.

Parker explained that during the 1930s and 1940s, Ogden was a vibrant and unique place to live. Although, throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, not a lot of people had money to renovate the buildings or take away from the historical architecture of them.

“You didn’t see any of these massive renovation projects that killed the soul from these buildings,” Parker said. “Which means that you can now go back into a lot of this original woodwork, original history and the original soul that is still in these buildings.”

One of the main initiatives in creating the district was to encourage individuals to live and work in Ogden, specifically in the downtown area and within the district.

“We were really interested in having community assets come in that people would enjoy and that were desirable,” Parker said.

A common concern in redeveloping an already existing neighborhood is the chance that many residents who currently live in the area will be unable to afford the location.

By redeveloping the area, Parker said they believed it would bring amenities into the neighborhood that everyone would use without kicking anyone out.

“What we were interested in was whether we could go ahead and bring some of these buildings back,” Parker said, “And have these sorts of things that typically do improve the neighborhood, but do so in a way that didn’t push out all of the people that were currently there.”

Parker and his group spearheaded the Imagine Jefferson project, which provides mixed income housing for Ogden residents.

“It’s definitely been a community labor. The city did a really special thing with the Imagine Jefferson project,” Parker said. “I don’t think nearly half of the momentum could have happened without the project.”

The steering committee that worked on the master plan of the Creative District is looking to develop additional housing that is ownership based. The housing will give artists an opportunity to own their own home and encourage them to stay part of the district.

The Creative District intended to attract local artists, as well as the Ogden community. The area offers spaces where people from all economic classes can gather and experience a feeling of connection, no matter their backgrounds.

“I think what makes a community are places that a thousand people feel like they own, even though only one person owns it. We have places that we feel connection and ownership to, and I think communities could almost be measured by how many of these places exist in them,” Parker said.

The masterminds behind the creative district hope it can become the Ogden “hub” for creative energy, making the art downtown more vibrant and engaging.

“We want to make sure that there’s more art in the public realm so that people can encounter that art as they go about their daily activities; they don’t necessarily have to go to a gallery or museum to find it,” Meess said.