Kevin Costner to build film studio in southern Utah, St. George mayor announces during address

Mayor announces Dixie Day celebration to preserve area’s heritage and ‘Dixie Spirit’

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) St. George Mayor Michele Randall made the announcement during her State of the City address.

St. George • Actor Kevin Costner is partnering with a southern Utah developer to bring a $40 million-plus film studio to St. George.

That’s the biggest news that emerged from St. George Mayor Michele Randall’s State of the City address Tuesday to the crowd at the Dixie Convention Center.

“It’s going to be a massive, massive addition to the performing arts industry here in St. George,” Macrae Heppler, a partner in a local title company, promised in a video aired at the event.

Brett Burgess, president of Development Solutions Group, Inc., is partnering with the Hollywood actor and filmmaker to build Territory Film Studios in a 500-acre industrial complex near the St. George Regional Airport. It will feature two sounds studios, a production warehouse for set design and office space — a combined 152,750 square feet. The plan for the studio also calls for offering public tours.

It will further include a “Costner-themed” restaurant that will also do catering, although Burgess doesn’t know many of the details yet.

“That’s kind of Kevin’s passion,” Burgess told The Salt Lake Tribune after the mayor’s remarks.

Costner’s interest in building a studio was borne out of his frustration last year in finding a warehouse to shoot some interior scenes when he was filming “Horizon: An American Saga.” The four-part series, which will depict the settlement of the West during the Civil War era, employed a cast and crew of more than 400 people and pumped an estimated $90 million into the St. George economy.

Territory Film Studios is a project by Kevin Costner and will be located in St. George.

“Horizon is the largest film production that’s ever been filmed in Utah,” said Joyce Kelly, sales manager for the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office, who helped Costner scout possible filming sites in southern Utah for the series.

By all accounts, Costner fell in love with the area and expressed interest in building a studio in St. George. Burgess entered the picture when Greater Zion officials called him to assist Costner in finding a temporary location to film some interior shots.

Tourism officials say the studio will be another bright light in southern Utah’s business firmament. What’s more, Kelly said, it is sorely needed.

“We have 4,000 students in film schools in higher education throughout Utah, and we have very little incentive for them to remain here,” she said. “So our students graduate and end up having to go elsewhere. Hopefully, our students will now be able to graduate and work on more films at the studio. And the film industry actually pays a wage that will sustain families, which is important.”

Construction on the studio is expected to get underway next fall.

Coming attractions

Territory Studios may have been the marquee attraction during the mayor’s presentation but it was hardly the only one. Among the other coming attractions city leaders mentioned — but provided few specifics about — are a luxury movie theater and bowling alley that will be built near Desert Color, a large master-planned community located just off the Southern Parkway.

Other developments along the parkway that Randall and Heppler teased include Intermountain Desert Color Parkway Emergency Services, a medical campus Intermountain Healthcare will construct on 30 acres about a mile east of Interstate 15.

Also on the drawing boards for the airport area is a Utah Tech University west campus and accompanying innovation district, which will be situated on 183 acres the university purchased with funds allocated by the Legislature.

Closer to downtown, Randall extolled the impending arrival of Strap Tank, a popular brewpub that will be located somewhere off Dixie Drive. She also provided a progress report on the new $45 million city hall, which is under construction on 61 S. Main Street.

St. George’s current city hall was built in 1980, when the city’s population was 13,000, as opposed to nearly 100,000 today.

“We’ve outgrown it, plain and simple,” Randall said. “This new facility not only gives us enough space to better conduct city business now and into the future but it also comes with a public parking structure, a beautiful plaza and 4,300 square feet of civic space.”

Doubling down on Dixie

A popular namesake in St. George over the years, the word “Dixie” has also been polarizing. Early settlers sent by pioneer leader Brigham Young to establish a cotton mission called the area “Utah’s Dixie” due to its warm climate that reminded them of the American South.

In July 2022, Dixie State University was renamed Utah Tech over the heated opposition of some longtime residents. Supporters of the change argue the word “Dixie” evoked images of the Confederacy and white supremacy. Conversely, opponents contended the term “Dixie” honored the area’s heritage.

St. George leaders appear to fall in the latter category.

“Washington [City celebrates] Cotton Days, Santa Clara has Swiss Days and Hurricane has Peach Days,” Randall remarked during her speech. “St. George has no days — until now.”

Randall announced St. George will be hosting its inaugural Dixie Days, an annual event that will take place the second week of September and feature a rodeo, art, music and food.

“A committee has been formed with the goal of making Dixie Days a unifying experience celebrating our shared history and a vibrant community that defines St. George, Utah,” the mayor added.

In keeping with the city’s “Dixie Spirit,” Randall added, St. George is set on creating an interpretive trail at Pioneer Park that will educate residents and visitors about Native Americans, the early pioneer settlers and why the area is called Dixie.

Randall’s announcement comes a year after Sugarloaf, the large red sandstone rock inscribed with the word “Dixie” that overlooks downtown St. George, was recognized as a historic landmark by the Utah Historic Preservation Office. It is also now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The iconic landmark was created more than a century ago by students of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Dixie Stake Academy.

Building and conserving

In his remarks, St. George City Manager John Willis said 2023 was a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the number of building permits issued. The number of building permits issued for single-family homes (617) was down from the 836 issued the previous year, he said, while permits for multifamily homes increased from 301 to 416. The total value of the permits issued last year is $328.5 million.

Willis said 2024 is shaping up to be a banner year. In January alone, the city issued permits with a combined value of $77 million.

“That’s probably the biggest January we’ve ever had,” the city manager said.

While St. George’s population and business growth continue to grow at a rapid rate, Willis noted, as does the amount of water the city is conserving. Since 2022, the city has removed 279,000 square feet — 6.4 acres — of sod, thus saving nearly 18 million gallons of water per year. If you look at the entire area, not just within the city limits, he added, about 1.1 million acres of grass — 25 acres — has been removed thus far.

“That’s enough grass to roll an 18-inch-wide [strip of] grass from here to Las Vegas and an additional 20 miles, which is a great thing and … shows what a great community that we live in,” Willis said.

Conservation groups have long contended that southern Utah residents use too much water and criticized elected officials for doing too little to conserve the precious resource. Willis, however, said the city has added 200 connections since 2017 while reducing the amount of water used by 250 million gallons, roughly 767 acre-feet.

“That’s a credit to everyone who is doing their part,” the city manager said.