St. George puts pause on approving new events as it studies community impact

ST. GEORGE — Are parts of St. George experiencing a sense of special event fatigue? City Council hopes to answer this and other questions as it strives to reach a balance between the many special events the city allows and the impact on the local community.

St. George City Council, St. George, Utah March 16, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

To help determine the answer, the approval of new special events staged by the city of St. George on public property is being put on hold for the next six months. During this interim, city officials aim to gather information and hear from various parties involved on how to best meet the needs of the community while also continuing to be an event-friendly city.

The temporary suspension on special event permits passed the City Council in a 3-1 vote Thursday evening with Councilwoman Danielle Larkin voting against it. Councilman Gregg McArthur was absent due to being out of town.

“There’s a concern about the overuse of parks and the abundance of our super-successful special events at our parks,” Assistant City Attorney Ryan Dooley told City Council during a regular meeting.

The overuse of city property – particularly locations like the Town Square in downtown St. George – has long been a concern for the city staff and council members. Issues related to grass not being able to recover between events have led the city to limit the number of events held there.

The result of this is various events being spread out to other city-owned locations like the nearby Vernon Worthen Park.

In this file photo, families gather at Vernon Worthen Park Monday for Independence Day festivities, St. George, Utah, July 4, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

However, as those events have spread out, they have also caused issues for residents who live near them. Councilwoman Natalie Larsen said residents have spoken to her about not being able to enjoy public parks due to their near-constant hosting of events while also having to deal with the increasing traffic, parking and noise that accompany them.

“This temporary ordinance will allow staff to study how special events are affecting and effecting local residents, the park itself with increased traffic, road closures and noise,” Dooley said. “It will be a chance for us to pause and take a look at how you (the council) as our policymakers want to balance the needs of the city, the public and the events.”

The six-month suspension on new events does not impact events that happen on a recurring basis, like the St. George Art Festival or Ironman 70.3 for example, nor does it impact events to be held on private property. Special event applications submitted to the city by the end of the business day on Wednesday, March 15, will also be allowed to move forward.

The pause on new event permits will last until Sept. 15.

While the City Council didn’t give city staff a specific direction to take as far as the collection of data and other information on special events and their impacts, Dooley said the council could determine the particulars in the future.

In this file photo, people attend the George Streetfest on Main, St. George, Utah, July 4, 2015 | Photo by Leanna Bergeron, St. George News

While she acknowledged that the majority of the council supported the moratorium on approving new special events, Larkin said she believed the city could perform its study into how to balance events and community while allowing new permits to move ahead.

“I understand and agree that we should make sure that our events, while they are economically benefiting our city, that they are not overtaxing our systems to the point our residents can’t enjoy them,” Larkin said.

Still, St. George has been known as an events city for decades, Larkin said, adding that she hoped the city wasn’t doing itself harm by pausing on the events for now.

Some events, like farmers markets, are also great places for small business start-ups, Larkin said, adding she didn’t want to see that effort stymied.

Special events, coupled with tourism and other factors that draw visitors to St. George, are among the factors credited for saving county taxpayers around $1,300 annually.

“I hope this gives us time to really focus on what works,” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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