St. George Mayor Jon Pike says his city receives offers every week from people wanting to develop land on the plateau above Bluff Street, where planes once roared before the city moved its municipal airport to Warner Valley.
But the city envisions something special for what it calls the "Ridgetop Complex." Rather than an "anything goes" hodgepodge of development on the unique, 237-acre parcel of ground, the mayor and city council foresee a St. George version of the University of Utah's Research Park and perhaps even a film studio.
The city is working closely with the Dixie Applied Technology College (DXATC) to locate on the plateau and build out its campus there. In fact, Mayor Pike says the city is selling the college 30 acres on the plateau for $2.5 million, an acquisition already negotiated between the city, the state and the FAA.
He's hoping the DXATC will be a catalyst to attract high tech, trades and even biomedical companies to locate there in a beneficial overlap of academia and private sector technology to foster economic growth. "The technology park concept reflects the good use for the plateau," the mayor says.
It's an "If you build it, they will come" approach, and it might take decades for the land to be developed, but Mayor Pike and the St. George City Council aren't in a hurry. "As we get going and have our DXATC partners up there, we think that will help drive our vision," he explains. "If you think about how the University of Utah Research Park has developed over the decades, we are looking at something similar for the Ridgetop Complex."
Driving up the hill from Bluff Street, the DXATC campus is what people will see first. The plan will give the DXATC a place to build out its campus, add programs that are so critical for the business community and keep pace with the region's growth. Mayor Pike notes that the city will make additional adjacent land available to the college for future growth. Currently the DXATC leases space from the City of St. George, but has outgrown its accommodations.
The DXATC has requested approximately $32 million from the State Legislature to construct its first building on the plateau and would start construction immediately, according to the mayor, if it had the funding. Of course, high-tech businesses locating there would not be required to be associated with the DXATC, but if they are, all the better. On the other hand, Mayor Pike doesn't see the Ridgetop Complex as a good location for manufacturing or retail. There are plenty of other locations for those two sectors. The city is currently working with the FAA regarding the development of the land, and Mayor Pike says there are a few strings attached, which the city is working through.
City property on the bluff is already being used by the DXATC and Dixie State University for public safety training – and an occasional drag race. Mayor Pike says the drag races won't last long, but the land is a significant resource for training opportunities, as the DXATC trains crews to battle wildfires and provides other fire and rescue training.
In a future endeavor, the city also envisions the possibility of converting a large airplane hangar on the plateau into a film studio. "The hangar is in good shape and could really work well as a film studio," says the mayor. "We've had a number of parties interested in buying, leasing or partnering with us for a studio and the vision fits with our partners at Dixie State University and the DXATC and would add to the regional economy."
The film industry comes and goes in Southern Utah, but Mayor Pike believes the region isn't getting its fair share of opportunities and could do more to cultivate that. "Why not have a film studio to complement our beautiful scenery?" he asks.
With buildings set back from the ridge, walking paths around the perimeter and abundant space for parks, Mayor Pike describes the vision for the plateau as a unique opportunity to do something that would be beautiful as well as beneficial for the Washington County economy. "We are trying to make sure we have the right fit. In the long term, this will be huge for our economy. There is some skills training that only the DXATC can offer and that is why we are so ambitious in supporting the college's move to a permanent location," he says.
"We rely heavily on our educational partners. It is critical for us to help educate our workforce and train them for professional, trades, business and technology careers. Our businesses need skilled trade's people. The business community would benefit from having a new and larger DXATC campus. We have growing tech companies and a growing hospital and we need people trained to meet the demand for a skilled workforce," Mayor Pike concludes.