OPINION – Finally, it seems, there is some serious effort being put into preserving the Dixie Sunbowl, the little stadium in the heart of St. George.
It would be extremely unwise to tear the place down or even consider moving the annual Dixie Roundup Rodeo to the fairgrounds, which would be foolish, or to Hansen Stadium, which would be asinine.
The Sunbowl is one of the few historic landmarks of this town and, yeah, it could use a bit of a facelift, a little paint, and a lot of TLC after years of neglect, but the Sunbowl is a very cool throwback piece for the city; a site with long history and loving memories. Just because it is 66 years old doesn’t mean it shouldn’t continue to be an important part of the community. In fact, the Sunbowl has so many potential uses – concerts, civic events, the annual Fourth of July celebration, perhaps a place to showcase the local youth sports teams, a place for car shows, art exhibits, you name it. City officials just need to be creative and accepting rather than judgmental as far as booking events there. In fact, the city should hire somebody with some real-world experience to book the Sunbowl and other city-owned properties, somebody with some creative juices in their blood and diversity in their mind.
We just returned from nearly a week in Colorado, where they have a wickedly beautiful mix of old and new in their cities and towns.
There are vital downtown areas, most notably in Denver, where people congregate for a meal, a drink, or to socialize with one another; old-town settings where magnificent old buildings stand next to progressively artistic and majestic new buildings.
It is not a city of chain stores and restaurants you can find in Anywhere, USA. I mean, yeah, I’m sure there must be an Olive Garden somewhere, but we didn’t see it. Instead, we saw bistros and boutiques; a serious art district; places of culture and diversity.
It had flavor, zest and is anything but a bologna and cheese sandwich with mayo on white bread.
But, that’s because it takes a progressive attitude to realize that a community is comprised of many flavors, shapes, sizes, colors.
I realize, of course, that Utah will never match Colorado for its progressiveness. But, Denver offers areas where you can wander through beautiful old churches where people still gather to worship or where you can step into a state-of-the-art concert hall and see a world-class performer (Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin fame, is set to perform this week at one of them).
It is a place of fashion, passion, and art. And, yes, a place where you can walk into one of the 47 dispensaries where they sell recreational cannabis under very strict regulation. It is a very interesting and strange experience to walk into a store, see a large display of various strains of cannabis and realize it is all perfectly legal. The people running these places? This ain’t Cheech and Chong. These guys are serious because nobody wants to mess up and give the burgeoning business a black eye.
There are immensely talented street musicians; vendors who will sell you an ice cream cone, a soft pretzel, a hot dog; but most importantly, there are people who gather there to socialize and, to be purely capitalistic, spend money.
Granted, St. George does not have a population anywhere near that of Denver but still, it’s no secret that all cities are measured by the vitality of their downtown area. The suburbs are where you find strip malls and chain stores. St. George deserves to be more than a long-distance suburb of Salt Lake City.
That’s why more and more communities have realized that it is best to push the cookie-cutter businesses to the outskirts or suburbs and dedicate its downtown to the charm and unique qualities that make it different than any other place.
We saw this practiced in Mexico where buildings that are centuries-old are still in use, much as they were when they were built. They are well cared for and nurtured instead of being torn down and replaced with some bright and shiny boxes. Every city, whether large or small, also has a plaza where the community gathers regularly for events ranging from Independence Day celebrations to art and music festivals, holiday bazaars, or just to mingle.
A splash pad, a carousel, and an art exhibit on a piece of greenspace just isn’t enough, unfortunately, to keep people coming. It’s also not such a good idea to roll up the sidewalks at sundown.
It would take a lot of work, but St. George could follow suit. All it takes is a courageous City Council willing to pass strict ordinances. I offer the actions taken in Bend, Oregon, and Grand Junction, Colorado, about 20 years ago to restore their downtown areas that were sagging.
And, it should start here with the Sunbowl.
Families have been going there for a long time now. Many memories were created there. It’s not just a pile of concrete and dirt and should be a place where the community can gather well into the future.
I worry about what will happen when the city finishes with the old Electric Theatre. I fear it will be another waste of taxpayer money, not because it will be spruced up, but because it will do little to broaden the artistic and cultural base and serve only a small, select segment of the community.
I worry that the vision will not be broad enough to realize that the Sunbowl should not be preserved only to house one or two annual events.
I worry because I have seen so much of this country lose its identity, its individuality, its charm.
Save the Sunbowl?
But, don’t forget about the rest of downtown.
Keep the stores open longer, offer activities and events that appeal to a variety of people of different interests, ages, cultures in a warm and welcoming manner. Most importantly, find an identity and give people a reason to rediscover the downtown area.
It will pay off.
No bad days!
- Dixie Roundup celebrates America with parade, rodeo finale; STGnews videocast
- St. George Lions: Living legacies of service
- Sunbowl, Roundup go pink; 80th annual rodeo; STGnews Photo Gallery
- Over 600 flags retired in tribute ceremony; STGnews Photo Gallery
- Holi Festival suffuses Sunbowl in color, ‘world’s happiest event’
- Last dance for Dixie’s Round-up Rodeo and Sunbowl?
- 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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