Ivins City Council gets closer to Black Desert Resort public funding decision, developer makes case

IVINS — With a room packed to max capacity per COVID-19 restrictions, the Ivins City Council inched closer to making a decision Thursday on whether to provide city funds to the Black Desert Resort at Entrada project.

Ivins City Council meeting on April 1, 2021 at Ivins City Hall. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While no decision was made, a majority of council members expressed support for a proposal to provide $5 million of city funds for the project through tax breaks. City administrators also backed the revised proposal as being “better” for the city.

The council heard a presentation at their Thursday night meeting on the revision of a proposal first presented in November by developer Enlaw LLC for the city to aid the project through a freeze of taxes paid to the city by the developer and a bond to be paid through the property taxes of residents at the new resort. 

The new proposal reduces the amount of the tax break for the developer from $28 million over 20 years to $5 million over 10. The developer also revealed it will include a $3 million rebate to the city that could go toward affordable housing.

The developers revealed the revised proposal relies on additional funds coming from Washington County and the Washington County School District to reduce the burden on the Ivins government. They added that they are still negotiating with the county and school district on those additional funds. 

Rendering from 2020 of the Black Desert Resort at Entrada. Ivins City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Black Desert Resort at Entrada, St. George News

Council member Jenny Johnson told St. George News that she was satisfied with the revised proposal and said it will not result in a burden for the residents of Ivins and ultimately will benefit them with a place to go to eat and “hang out.”

“I think it’s going to benefit our community in a big way. It gives us a place to go. I know that when I want to get something to eat quick, that there’s really not a lot of options right now. And so that will give us places to do some shopping and go get a bite,” Johnson said, adding that the proposal doesn’t include additional fees or taxes for residents. “It’s important to know that the tax, the property taxes, that’s going to come strictly from the resort and not from us. So we don’t have to worry about that part of it.”

The tax freeze would be created through a community reinvestment area, which allows a city to designate an area where an amount of taxes could be frozen to provide extra funds to a developer. 

The council moved closer to creating a community reinvestment area, which initially would include all of Ivins before the council narrows down the area to just the Black Desert Resort. Statements during the meeting from council members indicated a split in support, with three expressing support for the proposal and two leaning against it.

Screen shows Zoomed-in council members as well as a presentation from Black Desert Resort’s developers at the Ivins City Council meeting on April 1, 2021 at Ivins City Hall. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While expressing skepticism, council member Sue Gordhammer said during the meeting that a hold up from her was not seeing specific financials from the developer on how their numbers add up. 

“We owe it to our residents. I want to see that financial analysis,” Gordhammer said. “I want to see it in writing before I make a decision.”

Ultimately, the council decided to wait for that analysis, with plans to ultimately vote on whether to approve the community reinvestment area at their next meeting on April 15. This drew exacerbation from council member Cheyne McDonald, as the discussion over public funding of the resort has been a part of council meetings since November. “I feel like it’s another half hour of banging our head on the wall,” he said.

Someone who said he was less restless was developer Enlaw’s owner Patrick Manning, who told St. George News he is willing to work with the city for as long as it takes.

“I feel a dear relationship with the city and we want to be as patient as we need to be,” Manning said. “It’s a complicated matter for a town this size. It will take as long as we need to, to get it right.”

Black Desert Resort at Entrada developer Patrick Manning speaks to the Ivins City Council during their April 1, 2021 meeting. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Representatives for Enlaw, which also built the Entrada Resort just to the east of Ivins in St. George, said the additional aid from the city will go toward having parking in an underground structure, rather than surface spaces. This will allow for a community boardwalk with additional shops and eateries.

Manning told St. George News that he’s not asking for a handout from the city. 

“I can totally appreciate that point of view. My point of view is it’s not a handout at all because otherwise what we’re talking about will be an underground parking and a community boardwalk with shops is going to be instead some large parking lot that’s surface,” Manning said. “So we could do that, but we lose the community boardwalk and we lose that stroll.”

“We’re just saying, can we share in that because we can’t afford to build it,” Manning added. “This is a very common thing that’s used, especially for parking structures. Ivins can’t bring a resort like this, or a project like this, that generates revenue like this without these tools.”

The structures of the resort will be built into the ground in a way to not exceed the 25-foot height limit of buildings in Ivins.

Council member Derek Larsen, also expressing support for the community reinvestment area, said the resort is a good fit for Ivins. “We are a resort community,” Larsen said. “This fits with our plan.”

Johnson noted the $3 million Enlaw plans to rebate to the city, ultimately meaning the Ivins investment in the project is actually $2 million with the potential for five times that to come into city revenues in the first 10 years. 

“It’s not a handout because we benefit more than what we’re giving,” Larsen said. “So we get back a lot more than we’re handing out in my opinion.”

A map from March 2021 of the Black Desert Resort at Entrada. Ivins City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Black Desert Resort at Entrada, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Council member Dennis Mehr, who with Gordhammer leaned against the proposal, said during the meeting that the enhancements may not be worth the city investing money in the property.  

“They have a great vision. I don’t know if the majority of the community would feel the cost to get from a high satisfaction point to a utopia is worth our investment,” Mehr said. “Black Desert is going to put together a phenomenal project with or without us. If I was them, I’d do the same thing. Get as much as you can.”

Manning told St. George News that the city should invest in the property, as he said it will ultimately be a landmark not only for Ivins but all of Southern Utah.

“Cities usually have a gathering spot, a store, a place that people want to hang out. And in our estimation, Washington County doesn’t really have that spot. And so this is a place that we will build, Manning said. “What it is at the heart of it is an entertainment district with music, venues and shops, and retail and restaurants. And you can walk 3000 feet from end to end without having to compete with vehicles because there’s a pedestrian bridge.”

During the meeting, Mehr took issue with a part of the presentation that indicated city funding was also needed to provide a nature center that could be used by local schools for field trips and educational opportunities. 

The center was not included in previous presentations to the council but is likely the reason for possible school district investment in the property. 

“This is the first time I’ve heard that was at risk,” Mehr said. “I’m concerned that is being used as a lever to help us see it the why the applicant is wanting this to go their way.”

The construction site of the Black Desert Resort at Entrada is along Snow Canyon Road in Ivins City, Utah. March 31, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Ivins Mayor Chris Hart defended the nature center being included in the developer’s presentation. 

“No one is holding a sledgehammer to our head,” Hart said. “It’s entirely appropriate to bring that up because it’s a value.”

City Manager Dale Coulam said the proposal now has his support as well as that the city’s finance director, Lane Mecham, and a consultant to the city from Zions Bank. 

“Lane and I and staff favor the changes made and this is a much better proposal for the city,” Coulam said. 

Coulam and other members of the council indicated even if a community reinvestment area is created, it could be removed if Washington County and the school district don’t include their financial backing.    

“If the County Commission and school district reject this, it’s dissolved anyway,” Hart said. “They do this far more often. Ivins has never done this. We’re relying on people with great experience determining there is value in this. If this isn’t favorable to the county or district, I don’t see it moving forward.”

New standards for outdoor lighting

The council unanimously approved changes to the city’s outdoor lighting ordinance to add language limiting the use of video and LED message signs as well as language concerning the color of lighting. 

Ivins Planning Commission member Bob Morris speaks against revisions to the city’s outdoor lighting ordinance during the Ivins City Council meeting on April 1, 2021 at Ivins City Hall. Ivins, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

All of the changes are not considered retroactive and present lighting, such as message boards in front of Rocky Vista University, can stay in place.  

An exemption for temporary, construction-site-style message signs was added after Johnson raised concerns about message signs that go up for Heritage Days and other special events. 

Another change allows for whiter lighting, from 2400 kelvin to a maximum of 3000 kelvin, which satisfies the Utah Dark Sky Initiative for lighting not to exceed 3000. Also, the lighting of flags was reduced from 6,000 lumens to 1,500 per flag. 

The revised ordinance retains dark-sky standards, much to the ire of Ivins Planning Commission member Bob Morris who told council members Thursday that residents should have the freedom to use whatever brightness of lighting they choose. 

“I disagree with this campaign to darken my city,” Morris said. “It should not be stringent to impose lighting restrictions on your neighbors just so you can skygaze from your backyard.”

Fellow Planning Commission member Lance Anderson told the council that the dark sky is an asset for Ivins. 

“People move here and come here for the night sky,” Anderson said. “Yes, people want to look at the stars.” 

First look at 2022 budget

The annual budget process kicked off at Thursday’s council meeting, as the tentative budget was introduced by Mecham. 

In a meeting conducted both in Ivins City Council Chambers and through the Zoom app, Ivins City Director of Finance Lane Mecham is seen on a computer monitor with Mayor Chris Hart and City Manager Dale Coulam in the background. June 18, 2020 in Ivins City, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The budget, which can be read here, is balanced between $7,924,721 in projected revenue and $7,924,721 in expenditures.

Those expenses include $335,000 for a new street sweeper, a $50,000 cemetery expansion and more than $1.7 million for improvements to Old Highway 91, including a new $100,000 roundabout at Kayenta Parkway. 

Mecham said along with better-than-expected revenues in 2020, the city is also being boosted by $1 million over two years from the coronavirus relief bill that just passed in Congress and would be boosted from the infrastructure bill presently before the body. 

“The theme is going to be slow and steady,” Mecham said. “We’re planning for a strong economy because we’re coming out of COVID.”

The tentative budget will be discussed in the next council meeting before a likely May 6 vote, with final budget approval likely coming in June.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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