Richfield • When Snow College joined with county and city partners to construct a state-of-the-art arena, theater and classroom complex called the Sevier Valley Center that opened 10 years ago in this agricultural community, it had to be a leap of financial faith.
Could a town of 7,500 residents in a county with a population of 21,000 support a facility that included a 4,150-seat sports arena and an 813-seat theater capable of hosting major Broadway productions?
Judging from the 2,700 people who came from all over the area and were willing to pay up to $65 a seat to see comedy icon Bill Cosby perform in early October in Richfield, the answer is a likely yes.
Cosby is the biggest star to come to town, though acts such as Sawyer Brown, Collin Raye, the Harlem Globetrotters, Glenn Miller Orchestra and Kurt Bestor also have done well.
But perhaps the most important use of the building has been for high school basketball and wrestling events that bring hundreds of out of town people into Richfield in the dead of winter when the tourist season is at its slowest.
"I have been told by several of our economic development people that had the building not been built and did not host wrestling and basketball tournaments, some of the hotels would not open up in the winter," said Joseph Anderson, the Sevier Valley Center director who is one of three full-time employees at the facility. "With the capacity we bring in, that’s probably true."
For example, the Beehive Brawl wrestling tournament held in late January hosts more than 1,000 high school athletes from seven states along with parents and fans. Anderson said the event is so large that not only do Richfield motels sell out, but fans must book rooms in towns as far away as Beaver and Nephi.
Mohammed Mumin of the Richfield’s Day’s Inn said such tournaments are very important to his business.
"We get a lot of customers that way," he said. "This town is based on seasons. The big events come and help us. Summer is the busiest, but a lot of basketball and wrestling events take up all of our rooms. It helps a lot."
Matt Hart, a waiter at the South China Cafe, said a big event such as Bill Cosby or a prep tournament can dramatically increase sales.
"Right before events, we bring in extra people and they have not let us down," he said. "Nearly every event brings in people. We love the tournaments, especially wrestling and basketball. They bring in so many people. The Beehive Challenge is amazing."
Christine Pinder and Lauren Sanders, co-owners of the Sugar Bean Bakery in Richfield, experienced first-hand what it was like for the town to host a star. Cosby wandered into their bakery, chatted with the owners and invited them to the show.
Many of those attending the concert came from small surrounding towns and said they were more comfortable coming to Richfield than driving to Salt Lake City or Las Vegas to see a top act perform.
Still, some remain surprised that someone such as Bill Cosby would make his way to Richfield.
"A big name like Bill Cosby, you wouldn’t think would come to a small community," said Richfield city council member and mayor candidate Mike Turner. "He has the type of comedy a rural community is drawn to … It is amazing the tax revenue it [the Sevier Valley Center] generates for Richfield and the county … We took a real gamble to fund it."
Sevier County Commissioner Gordon Topham said that while Snow College actually owns the facility, the county helps pay for it and sponsors events using money from the transient room taxes it generates.
He would like to see it used even more, especially for small conventions.
Anderson, a Monroe native who left Sevier County for about 25 years before coming back after learning how to promote concerts while majoring in history at Utah State University, agrees. He is trying to bring in conventions by using space such as an area called the Atrium that can be used as a large room or four small rooms as well as the arena, theater and classrooms used by the college and Richfield High school.
That has been somewhat successful with the Utah Farm Bureau Federation holding its annual meeting at the center and the Future Farmers of America coming back several times.
Though Anderson was hired to bring in events besides high school tournaments, his commitment to local sports teams is obvious. Many jerseys from area schools that have played in Richfield have been placed in frames and hung from the arena walls. Some local football teams also gave him old helmets, which decorate his office.
"That shows our commitment to high school sports," he said.Next Page >
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