ST. GEORGE – At a recent work meeting, St. George City Council discussed the future of the Electric Theater and surrounding properties. The Council listened to a presentation where various options for the renovation project were laid out, along with how much each option will cost.
The city purchased the theater and three surrounding buildings in April for over $900,000. While initial plans for the site were vague – suggestions by the mayor and City Council included a community center, a city offices building, a musical theater, and an arts center – at the work meeting in late September the mayor, city manager, and City Council were focused on converting the buildings into a multi-use arts center that they hope will serve as a cornerstone for a downtown arts district. According to the presentation, renovating the buildings may cost anywhere from $250,000 up to $1.7 million.
Four options were discussed at the meeting. The first option, which was also the least expensive, was to renovate only the façade of the Electric Theater for $247,000. The new façade would make the theater look – at least from the outside – as it did in 1911 when it was first built, however no other significant changes would be made other than very basic structural improvements, “just so the walls don’t fall down,” as City Manager Gary Esplin said explaining the option at the meeting. Under this option, buildings B and C (see accompanying diagram), both of which have major structural flaws, would remain entirely unusable and access to building D would be limited.
A full restoration of the Electric Theater would include bringing the wiring up to code, adding new central heating and air conditioning, and revamping the outdated audio-visual system. These items would add $280,084 to the cost of the project, bringing the entire cost to $520,000.
The Council also looked into the option of demolishing buildings B and C and rebuilding either one or both of the buildings. Demolishing the two buildings will cost $75,000.
It will cost $325,000 to rebuild building B. If the city rebuilds B, leaves C as a parking lot, and renovates the Electric Theater façade and structure, the bill for the entire project is estimated to be $647,000.
Building C, which is more than twice the size of building B, will cost $774,840 to rebuild. The city can demolish and rebuild both B and C buildings along with renovating the Electric Theater façade and structure for around $1.4 million. This option still leaves building D untouched and access would remain limited.
Finally, if the city choses to renovate the entire property to full functionality, both buildings B and C will have to be destroyed and rebuilt, and building D will have to be completely gutted and refinished for an additional $270,710. The entire cost for this option, including the façade and structural upgrades to the Electric Theater, comes to nearly $1.7 million.
Esplin said that, while $1.7 million may seem like a lot of money, the project will result in 19,313 square feet of building space for the arts center. A building of that size in that area would cost around $5 million to build from scratch, he said.
“We need to do it, but we need to plan carefully,” Councilman Jon Pike said.
While he is onboard with the renovations to the Electric Theater, Councilman Jimmie Hughes said that he isn’t ready to commit to such a large project until the Council is sure that it would meet the needs of the arts community. He talked about how the St. George Musical Theater has already said that the Electric Theater won’t work for them, and that he is worried about other groups saying the same thing.
“We need to make sure that if we do it, we do it right,” Hughes said.
The City Council will not likely be voting on the project at this week’s City Council meeting. It will be meeting with the Arts Commission on Oct. 17 to discuss the project in further detail.
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