On the EDge: Not charged up over Electric Theater plans

OPINION – We know that the refurbishment of the Electric Theater and a couple of neighboring buildings in downtown St. George could cost about $1 million, probably more before it’s finished because, as we know, almost nothing comes in at or under cost any more.

But one thing I don’t see budgeted is an administrative cost.

How much will this facility cost once complete?

There will be regular maintenance, of course, but more importantly, who will actually run the place?

The concept, of course, is to use the facility for art and theater groups, which all sounds good and well. We can always use a little art and culture, as long as it represents some diversity and brings something fresh to the area. Will we see some of that once the city takes over, refurbishes, and starts booking the facility? If history is any indication, no.

But, on an even more elemental level, has the city considered how much to charge organizations to present events at the new-old center? Will it be a standard rate charged uniformly across the board, meaning no favored rates for favored groups? Are there enough events to generate enough revenue so the city can at least keep up with maintenance costs? Buildings are in constant need of attention, whether it is painting, fixing, or simply paying the electricity bill. It’s doubtful, of course, that the city will ever recoup the $1 million it is investing, but covering general expenses would be nice.

And, most importantly, who will run it?

The Electric Theater, at one time, held some promise.

Local bands had a place to play and there was the rare show offered by somebody with name value. The kids, and once in awhile their parents, had some place to go that offered something other than the usual school recital fare. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Now, with new ownership, what can we look forward to seeing in the grand old building?

That’s why booking the center will, hopefully, not be just another duty absorbed by somebody currently pushing a pencil for the city on the taxpayer dime. Event center coordinators have a much bigger job of negotiating and calendaring fees and dates; hiring crews to prep the center and make the necessary changeovers between, say, an art exhibit, a concert, and a play presentation are an inherent part of the job. These things don’t just happen and unless experienced hands are employed, the collateral fallout could be huge and range from broken fixtures to cancelled dates.

Granted, the center is not of large scale, but it can, if operated properly, be self-sustaining, if the city is wise enough to hire somebody with a fair degree of competency and experience in facility management.

Putting a friend-of-a-friend or family member who needs a job in that spot will simply not suffice. I mean, what does the average person know about power loads, staging, sound systems, lighting, and manning crews – from ushers and ticket-takers to clean-up crews?

When Cedar City built the Heritage Center, it unveiled plans for a multi-use facility that would house locals and professionals alike. The city even hired a veteran facility manager, who came in with some bold ideas. In fact, he was in initial stages of negotiations to bring in Bruce Springsteen, who was touring an acoustic show at the time, to perform at the facility’s grand opening. He didn’t last too long, although he did have an excellent resumé, and the job was eventually turned over to a friend of the then-mayor. And, the Springsteen concert? It never happened.

So, today, unless you are a fan of the Master Singers, Orchestra of Southern Utah, Cedar City Music Arts, or Neil Simon Festival, there’s isn’t much artistic diversity offered at Cedar City’s well-appointed theater, built with great sightlines and acoustics.

Managing the refurbished Electric Theater facility will be no easy task. Because of its size, it has severe limitations. A seating capacity of only 318 is not terribly inviting and having fixed seats does not offer flexibility.

City officials have consulted with St. George Musical Theater, The Space Between Theater Company, Southern Utah Heritage Choir, Southwest Symphony Orchestra, St. George Dance Company, and Westside Studio for Performing Arts for input during the planning stage, but do those groups have enough events to make the center viable? Will enough people be willing to pay to see these groups perform? What about our underserved youth? Will they flock to events by these groups? Doubtful.

They’ll get one, maybe two, if they’re lucky, shows a year featuring music from this century, even if it is only an hour-long set like the band American Authors performed at the Dixie Fest last week. The local bands play at the few bars in town, which shuts out the kids who aren’t 21 yet. Other than that, they have to settle for aging rock acts that entertained their parents or some country crooner with a big hat and shiny belt buckle.

Granted, the Electric Theater is in need of some improvements, but I don’t see the improvements and new ownership adding much to our cultural or artistic diversity.

This purchase makes about as much sense as buying a tattered old carousel and installing it in a city park.

But, as long as taxpayers are footing the bill, who cares, right?

No bad days!

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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  • JOSH DALTON March 11, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Make it a roller skating rink and I will run it.

  • JAR March 11, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Ed my friend, me think you need a vacation.
    Granted, not everyone in St. George is into the arts. Be it acting stage productions, dance, a place for young bands to get the feel of the lights and a small audience, etc.
    Where was your input when the city thought it might be neat for the folks to have a place right downtown to gather for entertainment or show off some art?
    Management? How about you donating some of your time and expertise?
    Cost? Maybe a tattoo parlor could pay the light bill during the day? Just a thought.

  • Mandy March 11, 2014 at 9:20 am

    A few years ago, when the electric theater had shows of up and coming bands, that was the place to be. I spent many Friday and Saturday nights there. I think Dixie state university should take advantage of the venue and try to bring bands back! They have their own radio station that can team up and have great modern bands play! Or have open mic nights. In the lobby they can set up a juice/ coffee bar. I think the under 21 crowd definitely needs a place to hang out. An art gallery…. Does not have much appeal! We hVe the art festival each year and kayenta and Springdale are better venues for art. The local dance orchestra people around town would still be able to perform. I think targeting the youth would be wiser.

    • Give me a break March 11, 2014 at 10:43 am

      The city does nothing but pander to the under 21 crowd and the old people on medicaid.

      • Bub March 11, 2014 at 2:10 pm

        “The city does nothing but pander to the under 21 crowd and the old people on medicaid.”

        100% TRUE.

        • Mom March 11, 2014 at 6:01 pm

          100% not true. Elderly are on Medicare, not Medicaid. BIG difference… and I don’t mean just a difference of a few letters.

  • sj March 11, 2014 at 9:56 am

    It always bothers me tremendously to read articles such as this. This project is not completed at this time, and this author has a lot of audacity to pre-judge what the public reaction will be to this facility. I think it can be a great addition to a downtown area that needs venues of this type….just as long as this type of negative attitude isn’t involved. The “can-do” Dixie Spirit is what has made this community blossom into a destination that many flock to…including Mr. Kociela.

    • Give me a break March 11, 2014 at 10:44 am

      People aren’t drawn to the dictatorship government of your city. They aren’t drawn here to be consumed by the mormon religion, either.

    • Willie March 11, 2014 at 5:23 pm

      You can take yourself and your so-called Dixie spirit and shove it! YOU are why this town can’t grow and won’t grow into it’s size. What I mean by that is catering and offering to the diversity of the population. This article couldn’t possibly be more on target with what most of today’s demographic wants. The Electric Theater consistently had sold out shows, that speakes volumes.

      St George is no longer a relief society hall town with people finding orchestra or choirs amusing. You old and reserved folks, like it or not, do NOT own this town and should not dictate what you want or don’t want to come in. We ALL live here and want more, different offerings in the way of entertainment.

      • sj March 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

        WOW…..i’m quite sure I said nothing about what type of use the venue might cater to. I’m also quite sure there have been no statements made as to who will be allowed to perform at this venue. You guys need to chill out, and quit making serious assumptions. And what does this have to do with the Mormon religion? Who said anything about being a Mormon?

  • Jeff B March 11, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    I agree with Mandy! I Know the people who use to run and own this place and was very sad when they sold it to the city. I spent many times here watching and listening to local bands and also some very good ones too! Hopefully the city will keep this going and get some decent concerts here in the future. Let the Students of Dixie College run it and make it what it needs to be!

  • Karen March March 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Mr. Kociela,
    You seem to have a very low opinion of the art and cultural aspects of our Community! Why would you presume that we are incapable of being self supporting? How do you suppose the little city of Mesquite supports and maintains a beautiful art gallery as well as a large facility for teaching as well as artists studios available for local artists? They put St George to shame.
    The Saint George area has an abundance of gifted artists. Has the City supported ANY venue for these artists to share and enrich the culture?? Except for the beautiful sculptures seen everywhere, I say NO! If a fine artist wishes not to pay the high percentage cut charged by the art galleries (or if they are not accepted into one of these galleries), their gifts are hidden from the public.
    The part that fine art plays in any country or community is a direct reflection on the refinement of the people who reside there.
    There are far more experienced people available than you seem to be aware of. Managing and maintaining these facilities have already been given much consideration by the Arts Council as well as those who wish to develop the theater. Not to make this purchase makes about as much sense as burying all the great works of art and music and drama in the mire of social ignorance.

    • Barbara Streisand March 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm

      Then step up to plate, Art Council. If it’s not the state that wants to dictate everything, it’s the city! Utah claims to be so conservative wanting less government, yet totally contradicts itself and wants nothing privately owned.

  • Bub March 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    The city buying up old junk buildings and trying to resurrect them is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyy too liberal of an idea. Let the private sector come in and do this kind of thing…

  • DoubleTap March 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Sounds like Ed is pitching himself for a job. Maybe he isn’t Mormon enough for the City leadership to consider….just saying.

  • JAR March 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Sounds like a democratic vote is in order here.

    Who thinks that Ed Kociela should be forced to manage the operation of this new
    (if voting YES,, go to your window and Yell— RIGHT ON
    (if voting NO,, go to your bathroom, grunt and yell— ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

  • Tyler March 11, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    This article nailed it on the head, ED! How I wish you were the mayor of this deprived town!

  • Big Bob March 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Thankyou Ed, so nice to see there actually are some real people, and editors for that matter, around here. The youth and adults over 21 are suffering who wanna get out and enjoy some high class entertainment without leaving town, are indeed suffering the same.
    If I could, I’d have regular main stream shows and concerts come in on the regular. Flagstaff, Grand Juction, Ogden and Provo do all the time, why should we be any different or more deprived?

  • DiCK March 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Let’s turn the mormon temple into a public venue, oh, wait, the alternative population wouldn’t be interested

    • Bub March 11, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Could we turn the temple into a drug rehab or homeless shelter? Give the thing a practical use, right?

      • Joe March 12, 2014 at 9:29 am

        Wow guys, way to demean something that many people hold sacred in this town. It has a very practical use to many people. It just may not be the practical way YOU would use it.

  • Biden 2016 March 11, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    You cry babies out there never put your money where your mouth is. For instance,Go Go 37 was a good start to getting some action coming to town. I know it didn’t have dancing, drinks etc. but it was a start. I went to 8 or 10 concerts there showcasing national touring bands and I was usually one of 10 or 15 people there. Sad it got little support. Same with every other similar enterprise that has ever started up in St. George whether it be dance halls or whatever. This is why a private investor did not buy the Electric Theater to make it into a type of venue that we are looking for. It is like throwing money down the drain for an investor. Be happy that there is Jazzy’s and next time something like GO GO comes to town show some support.

  • Maudie Fricker March 28, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Right on, Ed!!

  • Joel May 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    I have great ideas for the electric. I would actually like to buy it from the city and turn it into the venue it once was. Just modernized. No discrimination on arts. That place should have the doors flying off the hinges with business. Anyone from the city reading this please contact me. I will run it for you. Or let’s discuss the possibility of me buying it from the city. Please. This is serious. I have a creative team ready to go to work on this. I have advisement of people who have successfully opened and ran many venues in much larger cities with much more competition. Let me help you. Let’s not see the electric run flat.

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