Ogden buys Union Station so it can ‘create its own destiny’ downtown
Ogden’s Union Station was once the junction of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads. Although it is no longer a railway hub, it is still a cultural hub. It houses the Utah State Railroad Museum, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum, the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum and the Eccles Rail Center.
But now, Union Station’s future is unclear.
The land under the station was owned by Union Pacific, with the city of Ogden leasing it from the company. The 50-year lease was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2026. Negotiations were underway with Union Pacific in 2017 to extend the ground lease, but the railroad expressed willingness to sell the property to the city instead. Since then, purchase negotiations had been ongoing.
Then on Dec. 6, 2022, Ogden City Council unanimously approved the $5,562,044 purchase of the 8.06 acres of land.
“We now can take ownership of both the building and the land, which means now we essentially have the ability to create our own destiny,” said Brandon Cooper, Ogden’s director of community and economic development.
Conceptual plans were necessary for the purchase, Cooper said, but at this point, nothing has been formally proposed. However, some of the ideas reflected in the conceptual plans are based on studies done in 2015 and 2016.
During that time, the nonprofit Union Station Foundation and Ogden jointly commissioned studies to find out how to care for the museums in Union Station properly. The studies found a need for larger and better-equipped spaces. Considering this, the city proposed changes to the whole 35-acre area, which includes Union Station, other city-owned properties in the vicinity like the Annex and the Trainmen’s Building and Utah Transit Authority property.
One floated idea would move some of the museums in the Union Station building to an adjacent building.
Cooper said the city’s intention is to treat the museums, the collections and the station with the “utmost of care and professionalism.”
Even so, the conversation and the studies have some in the community concerned.
Steven Jones, the owner of S4 Group, located in downtown Ogden, visited Union Station and its museums when he moved to town in 2004. He said he was quickly hooked.
“It’s just a very unique place and, you know, an experience that you don’t forget once you’ve visited,” Jones said.
Jones also referenced Ogden’s history to highlight Union Station’s importance. Ogden played a critical role in the Transcontinental Railroad and the building of the west. Jones said there’s even a plaque in the railroad museum that essentially says you can’t get anywhere without going through Ogden, which was true during that time.
“Everything there is a national treasure. It’s not just a sleepy little Ogden museum,” Jones said.
At first, Jones said it sounded like the museums were going to be put into storage forever. Now, he believes the conversation has gone in a more positive direction and the city has been better at communicating what will happen with the site.
“Everyone has to understand what’s happening before things start happening,” Jones said.
While some community members are against it, he thinks moving some of the museums to a new building would be a good thing. For example, he said both the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Browning Arms Museum would benefit from more space to better display artifacts.
Amelia Jones, no relation to Steve Jones, is the president of the Union Station Foundation. She agreed that more space would benefit the museums. She also said the purchase of the land was a really good thing for the Union Station building and museums.
However, Amelia Jones said the city hasn’t allocated any money to build new museums at the moment, though the foundation would help fund potential projects.
Now that the purchase of the land has been approved, Cooper said the public will have the opportunity to provide input on additional studies and concept renderings. As the process goes further, there will be public comment periods, open houses and surveys to decide what exactly to do with it.