St. George’s Dixie Center will not change name, board votes
After months of controversy surrounding the name “Dixie” throughout southern Utah, the Dixie Convention Center in St. George will not be changing its name for the foreseeable future.
The Dixie Center’s board voted 5-2 Tuesday to keep the name, despite voting unanimously in June to rebrand it to “Greater Zion,” aligning with the county’s tourism marketing. Washington County commissioners tell ABC4 News the pushback from the community prompted this reversal.
The convention center is a critical component to the local economy, attracting $60 million to the county every year, according to tourism officials; but, the board says when it first voted June 23 to rebrand the center in an effort to attract a global audience, many in the community believed it was an attack on the word “Dixie” or potential response to the national movement to remove tributes to the Confederacy.
“In some areas of the country, they’re turning it into a pejorative for other issues that just aren’t issues here,” Tim Anderson, member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition, said. “There’s a lot of sensitivity to Utah’s Dixie, meaning where the early Mormon settlers came to grow cotton. It’s just that simple.”
Anderson said the coalition has gained several thousand members in a span of weeks. He said the group opposes efforts to “demean the name of our area” and will gather serious donors to run a campaign if necessary.
The board held a meeting on June 29, deciding to hold off for six months on the name change in an effort to conduct more research and gather public opinion. Commissioners say Tuesday’s vote was held four months ahead of schedule based on the community’s feedback.
“Some of our citizens felt that maybe we were just kicking the can and not really listening to them,” Washington County commission chairman Victor Iverson said. “We decided to make it clear that we were listening to them and we intended to keep the name Dixie Center.”
Shayne Wittwer, one of the two board members voting against the motion, said he disagreed with cutting the research period short. He said his decision was not political, but economical, to take advantage of the county’s new branding.
“My vote was never about not using the word Dixie, but to spend the time to research,” Wittwer said. “Let’s give the staff time to make sure that the name we use is the best one going forward to make the Dixie Center more marketable and fill the restaurants, shops, and hotels that boost the economy.”
St. George Mayor Jon Pike was the second board member to vote against the motion. Pike declined ABC4 News’ request for comment.
In May 2019, the tourism office launched the Greater Zion brand to better represent the diverse communities and tourism offerings throughout Washington County. The new brand was designed to unify all of the communities in the region under one identity, according to tourism officials.
Kevin Lewis, tourism director for the Greater Zion Convention & Tourism Office, told ABC4 News he felt there has been pressure on political leaders about their position and thinks the board wanted to formally address the issue “in an effort to put the discussion to rest.”
“We’ve created a lot of brand equity in the Greater Zion name over the last year and the convention center plays a significant role in our tourism offering,” Lewis said. “Aligning the two brands would have provided us with a better opportunity to unify our message and leverage our marketing investment.”
Lewis added, “Tourism research and input from visitors clearly shows that to people from outside of this area, the word Dixie is either unknown or confusing, and that doesn’t help your marketing efforts.”
Lewis said the office respect’s the board decision and will “continue to market the building and the opportunities it provides in the best possible way” as an important economic driver for the area.