ST. GEORGE – The St. George City Council unanimously approved a bid for $3 million Thursday to do restoration and renovation work on the Electric Theater and adjacent buildings. Though the project has run nearly $1 million over budget, city officials said they believe it is a worthwhile investment that will help strengthen the downtown area and local arts groups.
The original budget for the Electric Theater renovation was set at $2.15 million. St. George City Manager Gary Esplin told the City Council the majority of the funds budgeted for the project had come from the sale of city property and hadn’t been taken out of the general fund.
Esplin noted the city hadn’t received as many bids as it would have liked due to the nature of the project. Contractors aren’t necessarily eager to work on restoration projects, he said. Of the few bids that were received, however, the highest came in at $4 million, with the lowest – a bid from Steed Construction – coming in at $3,045,977.
The city bought the century-old Electric Theater and two neighboring buildings in March 2013 for $950,000. City officials have said they wish to preserve the Electric Theater while also turning it and the adjacent buildings into an 18,000-square-foot multipurpose arts center. The general concept is to provide a place where arts groups of all varieties can meet, maintain office space, practice, rehearse and so forth.
“The majority of the space is not just the theater,” Esplin said. “It’s for dance, art and other groups.”
St. George Mayor Jon Pike said a feasibility study concerning the city’s need for a theater/arts complex was conducted a few years ago. While the study concluded there was a possible need for such a complex, its findings also recommended the city strengthen its local arts groups first. The renovation of the Electric Theater is seen as a step toward accomplishing that, Pike said.
“That’s an investment in our downtown,” Esplin said.
Councilman Jimmie Hughes compared the Electric Theater project to the Dixie Sunbowl – it may not be something everyone likes or participates in, yet ultimately both add to the diversity of the city.
“We bought the building to save it,” Hughes said. “I’m OK if we sharpen our pencils and go to work and try to make this happen.”
Councilwoman Michele Randall agreed.
“We already made the investment in it, so let’s do it right,” she said.
The City Council unanimously approved the bid.
Following the council meeting, Esplin said it is often easier to demolish an old building than try to restore it. However, the City Council has made its choice and is moving forward with it. Esplin said he supports the effort.
“When it’s all done, it’ll be a real asset to the downtown,” he said.
A delegation from Ibigawa, Japan, St. George’s marathon sister city, made an appearance at the council meeting. Officials from both cities have been visiting each other around marathon time since 1989.
“It’s a fantastic exchange,” Pike said.
Kyle Case, executive director of the Huntsman World Senior Games, which starts after the St. George Marathon weekend, approached the council and told them it had been a banner year for registrations. As of Thursday, he said, 10,699 people had registered for the games. It is also estimated the economic impact of the games on the St. George area will be in excess of $16 million this year.
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