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Construction underway to restore southern Utah’s first movie theater

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Posted at 10:27 PM, Dec 22, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-23 09:46:19-05

ST GEORGE, Utah - Construction is underway in downtown St. George, with a goal of restoring the first motion picture theater in southern Utah.

Last week, crews began demolition of two buildings adjoining the historic Electric Theater. Earlier this month they completely gutted the theater itself. The $3.5 million project will restore the theater to its original 1911 design. The city council expressed interest in the renovation back in 2012. They purchased the buildings and hope to transform the landmark into a performing arts complex.

Crews are taking the theater down to the adobe bricks, but the two buildings just west of the theater have to be completely rebuilt.

“After investigating the foundation of the two buildings west of the electric, it was determined it would probably be less expensive to reconstruct and make it look old rather than restore what was there,” said city spokesman Marc Mortensen.

The city has spent a lot of time preserving its history over the years. The Electric theater project is part of a larger goal of rehabilitating Tabernacle Street, while boosting what has become an art district.

“The theater will always be used for those types of uses,” Mortensen said. “The buildings that adjoin the theater, the intent is to make those usable spaces for art groups who otherwise don’t have meeting space, don’t have office space.”

It’s a big project with a big price tag, funded mostly through the sale of other city-owned property. Residents we spoke with say they’re glad to see something happen to the theater that’s sat virtually empty since the late 1990s. The city says to them, it’s worth the cost to keep those memories alive.

“Anyone living today that’s lived their whole life in St. George or grew up here, will have some recollection of the Electric Theater,” Mortensen said. “And we hope that remains true for the upcoming generations.”

The renovations are expected to be complete mid April 2015.