Flood damage closes O.C. Tanner Amphitheater for 6-8 months; Zion Canyon Music Festival fate in doubt

ST. GEORGE — This summer, the show will not go on at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater that stands at the threshold of Zion National Park.

Much of the parking lot for the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater has been swept away by floodwaters, Springdale, Utah, July 9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Damage from the June 29 flood – mainly to the facility’s parking area – will keep the theater closed for the next six to eight months, according to officials with Dixie State University, which operates the facility as a satellite campus. Damage is not as much to the stage and seating areas as it is the parking area and road leading up to the facility. What was the upper parking lot is not not much more than a small strip of asphalt overlooking a cliff. The drainage system was also destroyed.

“It is going to take some qualified people and heavy machinery to fix this,” Josh Thayn, Dixie State’s executive director of events services and risk management, said. 

The stage and seating areas had more superficial damage, Thayn said, with drywall cracks and damaged carpet. But the waterline showing how high the floodwaters were can be seen reaching the doorknobs.

The closure is forcing the moving of events scheduled for the theater this summer to facilities on the main Dixie State campus in St. George, albeit without the dramatic Zion backdrop.

Organizers for one of the larger amphitheater events – the Zion Canyon Music Festival – said in a statement on Facebook that their event has been outright canceled, though Dixie State officials still said they are trying to reschedule every event on the Tanner Amphitheater schedule.

It would be the second-straight year the festival has been canceled after having been suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are so disappointed.  First Covid, now this?” the statement reads.

Organizers with the festival did not respond to requests for comment from St. George News.

Undated file photo of the stage and seating area of the O. C. Tanner Amphitheater. Springdale, Utah | Image courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

“I know we adore the Zion Canyon Music Festival and we will do whatever we can to help them succeed,” said Dixie State Arts Programming Coordinator Karin Edward. “I am not certain if the event will be canceled or relocated.”

It appears at this point that the ballfield at Springdale Town Park, which has been used for events and music festivals in the past, is not an option. On Thursday, the town of Springdale announced the ballfield has also been damaged by the flood and is unavailable until “further notice.” It is unclear if that will affect the Redrox Music Festival, scheduled to take place at the ballfield on Nov. 5 and 6. 

The statement from the Zion Canyon festival also described the amphitheater facility as being “condemned,” which Thayn said is not the case.

“It’s not condemned. It’s just from the major flooding. We had substantial damage to the main upper parking lot, the driveway and the drainage infrastructure. The word ‘condemned’ is not accurate,” Thayn said. “We just have damage that needs to be restored.”

Boulders strewn by floodwaters litter the site around the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale, Utah. July 9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

A luau and show that had been scheduled last Friday at the amphitheater by the St. George-based dance troupe Siva Pasefika was relocated to the Cox Auditorium on the main Dixie State campus. Six more performances by the Polynesian dancers that had been scheduled for the amphitheater over the next three months have also been relocated to Cox Auditorium.

Dixie State event organizers said they are working to accommodate other events scheduled for the amphitheater, including an Aug. 14 free performance by the Utah Symphony as part of a statewide tour to celebrate Utah’s 150th anniversary. 

Pipes exposed by floodwaters at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale, Utah. July 9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Dixie State Director of Arts Programming Ginger Nelson, along with Edwards, went out to the site earlier last week. Like many in the surrounding Springdale community, they had initially thought the damage wasn’t that bad. 

“Aside from the parking lot and mud/boulder removal from those areas, I had thought we had weathered the flood pretty well,” Edwards said. “There was water inside the building, but we dried out the carpets with industrial fans and tested the plumbing and lights by flushing toilets, turning on showers and sinks and turning on and off the lights.”

That was before the state engineer determined the facility would be unusable for up to eight months pending repairs. Thayn said the university plans on using emergency capital funds to quickly necessitate repairs.

It’s not the first time the amphitheater has had to close up because of flood damage. Thayn said a flood in 2015 also closed the facility for a time.

“It’s right in the middle of a natural wash-way,” he said. “That’s problematic to begin with.”

Dixie State has plans for Tanner site

The university, which owns 81 acres between Springdale and Zion National Park that includes the amphitheater, has long-term plans to use the site to build a hotel and possibly a restaurant and conference center on the site, as well as renovate the theater, as part of a new hospitality degree program. Though both the university and town leaders said such a development is not imminent. 

File photo of audience members at the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater for a DOCUTAH screening in Springdale, Utah. Sept. 11, 2015 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

Edwards said the need to repair the facility will not shorten that timetable.

“There has already been a request for bids and proposals have been submitted,” Edwards said of developing the land. “The insurance claim for repairs is a separate issue.” 

Initial plans by Dixie State to develop the site drew criticism back in 2019 during town meetings. However, the town council released a joint statement last week saying that the town and the university have had several “constructive meetings” about the site. The statement also said they have been told that development is not imminent and that any planning has been delayed until the spring of 2022.

“This is good news and allows Springdale more time to share the town’s concerns with DSU, and to learn more about the school’s needs and ways to meet them,” the statement read.

The sign for the O.C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale, Utah. June 9, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

However, during the Town Council’s meeting held Wednesday, council member Suzanne Elger wanted to make clear the council is not unified in wanting to see the site developed. 

“I’m not in agreement on DSU wanting to develop the land with the amphitheater,” Elger said during the meeting. “I believe DSU is not being transparent.”

But Edwards echoed that meetings have gone well with town leaders and the Zion Tourism Board, and she said she believes both the town and the university can come to a shared vision of what is to come for the amphitheater and that land around it. 

“We feel that the community is supportive of the Tanner and that any steps we take in the future can be handled with diplomacy and in a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie,” Edwards said. “We love the people of Springdale, and they have been absolutely lovely to work with.”

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

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