ST. GEORGE — A group of women seeking to preserve the city’s pioneer heritage is planning to turn an historic home in downtown St. George into a small-scale events venue.
During a public meeting Thursday, the St. George City Council approved a conditional use permit to allow an events center to be operated in the James and Manomas Andrus Home, which is designated as a landmark site.
The home, located at 164 W. 100 South, was built in the 1880s by James Andrus for one of his wives, Manomas. The two-story house is owned by the city of St. George and features a smaller “carriage house” to the side of the home.
The city also approved a permit for the carriage house to be operated in some retail capacity, such as an ice cream shop or café. It is tentatively planned to be used as a coffee shop by Affogato West, a gourmet coffee and beverage business that originally opened as a food truck and currently operates in the old theater building at 214 N. 1000 East in St. George.
The city plans to bring the home up to code in order to operate commercially and then lease it to a group of entrepreneurs who plan to call the events center “Gather at Town Square.”
The group of entrepreneurs comprises four women who each have unique pioneer heritage dating to the founding of St. George. They have been planning the project for several months and plan to begin operation in spring 2019.
“We all feel that we can’t move into the future without the values and the memories and the foundation that’s been laid by the past,” said Debi Barmonde, one of the project’s four partners.
Part of bringing the past into the present includes plans to restore the exterior of the home to its original look with more neutral colors. The interior will be modified to accommodate a plethora of possible events and uses, such as workshops, farmers markets, art studios, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, elopement ceremonies, lectures, concerts, picnics, wakes and corporate training retreats.
Given the size of the property, project planners intend for the center to be used by relatively small groups, describing it as an “intimate events venue in the heart of St. George.”
“We picture it as a gathering place for people to come together in the community,” project partner Kay Nelson said. “We want to host our local artisans to come in and share the things that they do.”
Nelson, Barmonde and fellow project partners Brenda Evans and Nan Glauser said they consulted with the descendants of the Andrus family in order to get the most accurate “window into the past” as they work to restore the home.
“We had a desire as we started to look at this project to really keep it true to the way that it started,” Barmonde said.
City officials have embraced the project enthusiastically.
“The reason we really looked seriously at these ladies’ (proposal) is because they’re going to keep the historic quality of the home,” Councilwoman Michele Randall said. “We like to keep those historic homes and make it an attraction to our area where we have invested a lot of money to attract people downtown.”
City officials envision the events center as a corollary to recent efforts to revitalize downtown St. George, especially in the Town Square Park area, which has a parking lot directly adjacent to the planned events center.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the project, however. Area homeowners in attendance at Thursday’s City Council meeting expressed some apprehension about having a potentially bustling commercial venue on their once-quiet street.
“Our concern is that this is still a residential neighborhood mostly, and once we get something like this … it kind of changes the dynamics of the neighborhood. I feel like it’s not really necessary there,” neighbor Marilyn McArthur-Smith said.
“I know that most of the people on that street are not happy about making it a coffeehouse or event center, especially since there’s Joule Plaza which is going to bring so much traffic,” McArthur-Smith said, lamenting the notion that St. George is turning into a “big city.”
Another nearby property owner, Debra Judd, said she is now second-guessing her plans to move into the home she inherited.
“I’m wondering, do I fix my home to move into it only to have it not be a place I want to live,” she asked.
Currently, Judd rents the home to a family, but she said having an events center next door would make it difficult to maintain the home as a desirable rental property if she decides not to move into it herself.
“We view this as a kind of middle ground to try to preserve the area and the beauty but bring some light neighborhood commercial types of uses,” Mayor Jon Pike said in response.
Pike mentioned other nearby city-owned properties that have been leased as bed-and-breakfasts and long- and short-term rentals, partly in an effort to maintain the neighborhood’s historic character.
Councilwoman Bette Arial echoed that sentiment:
I just want these houses to stay. I don’t want someone to buy them and tear them down and put some inappropriate thing in them. I think it’s wonderful that the city cares enough that we do buy some homes to protect them, and I feel like that’s what we’re doing.
The project planners said they plan to take neighborhood feedback into consideration as they move forward with the events center.
“We do recognize that there are neighbors around us and we do want to be conducive to the sound and the lighting,” Nelson said.
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