OPINION – We know that the refurbishment of the Electric Theater and a couple of neighboring buildings in downtown St. George could cost about $1 million, probably more before it’s finished because, as we know, almost nothing comes in at or under cost any more.
But one thing I don’t see budgeted is an administrative cost.
How much will this facility cost once complete?
There will be regular maintenance, of course, but more importantly, who will actually run the place?
The concept, of course, is to use the facility for art and theater groups, which all sounds good and well. We can always use a little art and culture, as long as it represents some diversity and brings something fresh to the area. Will we see some of that once the city takes over, refurbishes, and starts booking the facility? If history is any indication, no.
But, on an even more elemental level, has the city considered how much to charge organizations to present events at the new-old center? Will it be a standard rate charged uniformly across the board, meaning no favored rates for favored groups? Are there enough events to generate enough revenue so the city can at least keep up with maintenance costs? Buildings are in constant need of attention, whether it is painting, fixing, or simply paying the electricity bill. It’s doubtful, of course, that the city will ever recoup the $1 million it is investing, but covering general expenses would be nice.
And, most importantly, who will run it?
The Electric Theater, at one time, held some promise.
Local bands had a place to play and there was the rare show offered by somebody with name value. The kids, and once in awhile their parents, had some place to go that offered something other than the usual school recital fare. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Now, with new ownership, what can we look forward to seeing in the grand old building?
That’s why booking the center will, hopefully, not be just another duty absorbed by somebody currently pushing a pencil for the city on the taxpayer dime. Event center coordinators have a much bigger job of negotiating and calendaring fees and dates; hiring crews to prep the center and make the necessary changeovers between, say, an art exhibit, a concert, and a play presentation are an inherent part of the job. These things don’t just happen and unless experienced hands are employed, the collateral fallout could be huge and range from broken fixtures to cancelled dates.
Granted, the center is not of large scale, but it can, if operated properly, be self-sustaining, if the city is wise enough to hire somebody with a fair degree of competency and experience in facility management.
Putting a friend-of-a-friend or family member who needs a job in that spot will simply not suffice. I mean, what does the average person know about power loads, staging, sound systems, lighting, and manning crews – from ushers and ticket-takers to clean-up crews?
When Cedar City built the Heritage Center, it unveiled plans for a multi-use facility that would house locals and professionals alike. The city even hired a veteran facility manager, who came in with some bold ideas. In fact, he was in initial stages of negotiations to bring in Bruce Springsteen, who was touring an acoustic show at the time, to perform at the facility’s grand opening. He didn’t last too long, although he did have an excellent resumé, and the job was eventually turned over to a friend of the then-mayor. And, the Springsteen concert? It never happened.
So, today, unless you are a fan of the Master Singers, Orchestra of Southern Utah, Cedar City Music Arts, or Neil Simon Festival, there’s isn’t much artistic diversity offered at Cedar City’s well-appointed theater, built with great sightlines and acoustics.
Managing the refurbished Electric Theater facility will be no easy task. Because of its size, it has severe limitations. A seating capacity of only 318 is not terribly inviting and having fixed seats does not offer flexibility.
City officials have consulted with St. George Musical Theater, The Space Between Theater Company, Southern Utah Heritage Choir, Southwest Symphony Orchestra, St. George Dance Company, and Westside Studio for Performing Arts for input during the planning stage, but do those groups have enough events to make the center viable? Will enough people be willing to pay to see these groups perform? What about our underserved youth? Will they flock to events by these groups? Doubtful.
They’ll get one, maybe two, if they’re lucky, shows a year featuring music from this century, even if it is only an hour-long set like the band American Authors performed at the Dixie Fest last week. The local bands play at the few bars in town, which shuts out the kids who aren’t 21 yet. Other than that, they have to settle for aging rock acts that entertained their parents or some country crooner with a big hat and shiny belt buckle.
Granted, the Electric Theater is in need of some improvements, but I don’t see the improvements and new ownership adding much to our cultural or artistic diversity.
But, as long as taxpayers are footing the bill, who cares, right?
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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