OGDEN, Utah — The impact of hundreds of thousands of visitors streaming into downtown during the six-week Ogden Temple open house just won't wait for the event to begin on Friday.
Last week, the public reserved 350,000 free tickets to the open house in the first 30 hours they were available, a sign of building excitement to finally see whether the changes inside match those on the outside of an edifice renovated so completely and uniquely that a news release said Tuesday that "the new design is not remotely similar to the original."
Meanwhile, 25,000 LDS Church members have volunteered to serve as ushers, and nearby businesses began to see a boost Monday, when tours of the Mormon temple began for special groups.
For Ogden, the temple tops a downtown rejuvenation that began half a decade ago. For Ogden's members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the open house from Friday through Sept. 6 and subsequent dedication on Sept. 21 cap a nearly three-and-a-half-year wait to return to worship in their downtown temple.
"There's a significant buzz," former Mayor Matt Godfrey said. "It's usually the first topic people bring up with me. This is the hottest topic in town."
Because of high demand for tickets, the LDS Church announced Tuesday that it has made more available at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
The church can't add any new dates to the open house, but it had held some times in reserve, said Elder Kent F. Richards, assistant executive director of the LDS Church's temple department and a member of the faith's Second Quorum of the Seventy.
"We expected there would be high demand," Elder Richards said. "I was surprised at how quickly people responded, but everyone will have the opportunity to come that wants to."
By Tuesday morning, before release of the added times, a request for a single ticket to an English-language open house tour showed all tickets gone for 23 of the 32 open-house dates.
By Tuesday afternoon, the same request showed tickets available for all 32 dates.
The more people who attend, the better for local businesses.
Mary Riter is hiring temporary workers at the Farr's ice cream shop across the street northwest of the temple. The assistant store manager will need all the help she can get during the six-week open house.
Farr's has major plans to sell more ice cream and other merchandise, including opening space adjacent to the regular shop, open since the 1920s, and use the entire parking lot for sales.
"The closure of the temple made winters slower," Riter said. "The people used to come to get ice cream after going to the temple. That was business we lost. The reopening of the temple will bring that all back."
That's already happening.
"Even the last two days, as they've started tours for dignitaries, we've seen increased traffic," Riter said.
The returning and additional business will supplement what already has happened downtown.
Ogden replaced its underperforming shopping mall next to the temple site with a walkable outdoor shopping area called the Junction, with 61 independent businesses.
As the mall "degraded over time," Brad and Cathie Layton of Huntsville stopped coming into downtown Ogden and began shopping on the outskirts.
"Since they built the Junction, we come here often to go to the movies, to bowl and to eat lunch or dinner," he said. "We've brought our business back into the center of Ogden."
The Laytons, who were in town Tuesday to eat lunch at Five Guys, a stone's throw from the temple, are LDS, and they've missed their local temple. For the past three years they've traveled to the Bountiful Temple, a 50-minute drive instead of the 20-minute one into Ogden.
"It's obviously beautiful," Brad Layton said. "It makes the area a little more cohesive and centralizes the activity of the city a little more."
The word "beauty" and others like it were common Tuesday during a press conference and media tour of the temple.
Although Cathie Layton said "a few people liked the older, rounder look," most seem to prefer the new design.
"It's stunning," said Godfrey, now a local businessman himself and member of the temple open house committee. "It surpassed my wildest expectation, and the inside is an absolute marvel. This is a tremendous gift to the community.
"This is the most-visited site in downtown by quite a large margin. If you set aside the spiritual benefits, and there are many, it has driven tremendous activity to the core, and that's only going to grow."
One area that will grow will be the number of local weddings.
"I believe we will see exponential, and I really do mean exponential, growth in weddings at the temple," Godfrey said.
"There weren't a lot of weddings at the Ogden Temple before" — as brides and grooms chose other LDS temples — "but that will change. Visitorship will grow. Members will come to worship and will want to come again and again."
A look inside
Utah media got a sneak preview tour Tuesday, led by Elder Richards and Elder Craig G. Fisher, an area authority of the church who was born in Ogden and lives in Morgan.
"This is an important part of the Ogden City culture," Elder Fisher said. "It is a lovely place. It means a lot to the people of Ogden.
Elder Fisher said the Ogden Temple district includes 73 LDS stakes in Utah and western Wyoming that are home to about 250,000 church members.
Desert rose and prairie grass designs are weaved throughout what Elder Richards called "this beautiful structure."
"As with Solomon's temple, the finest materials were brought together from around the world," he added. "The wood is from Africa. The marble was quarried in Egypt and fabricated in China, with laser cutting where necessary."
The renovation included placement of a number of new paintings throughout the temple, though some of the mainstays remain.
"There's a connection to the past as we go forward into the future," Elder Richards said.
One of the most eye-catching features is the ceiling of the temple's celestial room, which to Latter-day Saints represents entering the presence of God. The room is capped by a brilliant white-accented glass dome that ascends out of a circlular hole in the ceiling.
"As beautiful as the temple is in its construction and detail ... these are the most sacred places in the world," Elder Richards said. "We believe we have the privilege of entering the house of the Lord to perform ordinances for the living and our deceased ancestors."