As St. George begins to reopen, plans for theaters, restaurants, pools are in flux

St. George City as seen from the Dixie Rock/Sugarloaf formation at Pioneer Park, St. George, Utah, July 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As St. George begins to reopen for business following Gov. Gary Herbert’s directives, Mayor Jon Pike is cautiously optimistic for a return to normal.

“While there is still gathering restrictions, we will encourage families or small groups of 20 (or less) to gather as long as you are symptom-free,” Pike said.

The logistics of a phased-in reopening of businesses, updated Friday, are found on the Southwest Utah Public Health Department website.

“We are still learning about the restriction,” Pike said. “We’ve also asked for the governor for our county to consider that we are allowed to go to level yellow. I don’t know if and when that will happen for us. This will help (opening) musical theaters.”

Theaters plan for the long game

Bruce R. Bennett, CEO of the St. George Musical Theater, is optimistic about the future. The 140-seat theater has been closed since March 15.

“We’ve had discussions with the mayor and all of the city officials,” Bennett said. “The Opera House where we perform is owned by the city and they need to be comfortable when we do open that we are doing that in the safest way possible.”

Tony Piersanti as Mike (back) and Kailey Simmons as Katherine in St. George Musical Theater’s production of Disney’s “Freaky Friday,” St. George, Utah, June 28, 2019 | File photo by Monica Johanson, St. George News

When the theater tentatively opens sometime between mid-May and June, ushers will be required to wear gloves, hand sanitizing stations will be available and public spaces and seating will need to be continually disinfected.

According to Bennett, the theater solicited its patrons through a survey that provided input on what conditions and timetable they would like to see its reopening.

“The overwhelming majority said they want to come back to the theater,” Bennett added. “They feel much more confident if we implement safety precautions. A certain percentage of our patrons would come back tomorrow if we opened … but 16-21% of our patrons are not ready to return yet and I completely respect their choice.”

Bennett said he will never judge anyone who feels it is unsafe to return to the theater but will welcome everyone who trusts the St. George Musical Theater to take appropriate safety precautions to open its doors.

It’s “foolish” not to listen to who your patrons and implement the policies that would make them feel comfortable, Bennett said. Quality of life, he added, is significantly enhanced through art and live performance.

“People are very enthusiastic about returning to that part of their life,” Bennett said.

Unique to other businesses, live theater and musical performances, Bennett said is not the flip the switch and you are on. There are weeks of auditions, casting, preproduction, set construction, rigging and lighting then ramping up for ticket sales before the limelight burns on stage.

At any given time, the theater is coordinating three live productions of its seven that it holds annually and a summer camp.

“We anticipate to have a plan to open very, very soon,” he added. “Our patrons have been wonderful and supportive.”

Plans for city pool reopening in flux

More immediately, the city’s outdoor swimming pool is reopening Monday tentatively scheduled from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., for a limited amount of swimmers restricted to the pool’s six lanes to swim laps only.

City pool on 700 South, St. George, Utah, April 30, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We’ve been working on this from people throughout Friday and have changed on how we are going to deal with the pool,” Pike said. “For now, we are not going to open the pool for general use.”

“It will be very limited and not the plan that we had,” he said. “What we have been told by our health department is there is some flexibility in terms of numbers and spacing on the pool deck.”

The city is considering what access to the city pool will look like, but Pike said based on demand, plans can change very quickly and decisions for access modified.

During talks with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, city officials have also been talking with state officials on how and what opening the pool for general swimming looks like.

According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s most recent directives issued Friday, under the current orange or moderate-risk category with regard to pools, water parks and spas opening, the general public is urged to take “extreme” precautions, maintain six feet distancing protocols with no congregation on pool decks and symptom screening.

Social interaction is limited to groups in pools to 20 people or less.

“Based on the (state) order, we cannot have a lot of people hanging out and wading in the pool,” Pike said. “For right now, it will be limited and we will get as many people in and through as we can. We are going to have to judge this based on how many people show up and when.”

If the risk category is lowered to yellow, “reasonable” precautions are warranted. These include allowing six-foot distancing on pool decks and lap swimming returning to normal that could have restricted to individual facilities.

Swim team and swim lessons are allowed as long as social standing is maintained.

Splash pads are tentatively scheduled to open immediately, and on Monday, the recreation center may reopen with distancing limitations enforced based on its square footage. The city’s pickleball courts are also scheduled to open within a week to 10 days.

“We are going to start rolling with the punches starting Monday,” Pike said.

On the horizon to open are sports fields. What this looks like is also under review.

“We want to be cautious and I don’t mind pushing (openings) a fair bit,” Pike added. “We need to make sure if Dr. David Blodgett, the director of Southwest Utah Public Health is comfortable with something then I think we are going to be comfortable with it as well.”

Restaurants return to dine-in seating

Some local restaurants that have returned to dine-in seating or plan to return soon with distance protocols in place include the following:

Restaurant openings are tentative, and patrons are urged to call ahead and verify seating availability.

In this file photo, customers dine at the Painted Pony in St. George. Restaurants and bars in Washington County and across the state were ordered to suspend dine-in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a heavy economic hit for these and other businesses, St. George, Utah, Aug. 8, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Although cautiously optimistic, Pike said he realizes that St. George residents are craving a return to a normal life.

“I literally dealt with this issue all day Friday,” he added. “As I was driving around I did notice people parked at restaurants and inside. Clearly the restaurants were not using all their tables and booths trying to meet the conditions set by the health department.”

The city, Pike said, will monitor progress and adjust its recommendations accordingly if needed.

Community looks out for vulnerable population

“I think we are doing it right in St. George,” Pike added. “I think the next step for all of us in Utah is to get to a place to focus on our most vulnerable citizens, educating people and provide support where it is needed.”

Pike added that especially with the older population of the community and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes still need to take precautions even though the desire to leave their homes seems overwhelming.

“I know some know wearing masks are important and others don’t, but I hope we respect each other for the decisions and try to do our best to protect each other,” Pike said. “We need to help our neighbor going down the road because this might be with us for a while.”

“We are going to minimize the impact on the economy and what we what to do to get people back to work along with protecting those most vulnerable,” he said. “Moving forward the city will help educate our community.”

For the latest, visit the city of St. George COVID-19 website.

Editor’s note: This story previously had incorrect hours for the St. George outdoor swimming pool. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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