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Ruby's dream? Creation of Bryce Canyon City elicits cheers and jeers

Creation of Bryce Canyon City elicits cheers and jeer

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2007 12:24 a.m. MDT

Thor's Hammer towers above Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

BRYCE CANYON CITY, Garfield County — Don't talk to Rod Syrett about his ego. This is about way more than ego.

The 61-year-old man is the third generation to run the company that is Garfield County's biggest employer. He has 600 workers at peak season. He has eight children and a home and resort enterprise at the gateway of one of America's most beautiful places.

But Syrett, the owner of Ruby's Inn, hasn't forgotten how Garfield County residents laughed at his granddad, Reuben "Ruby" Syrett, in the early 1900s, when the man after whom all this is named moved away from the mills and traditional work and toward tourism.

"They all laughed at him," Syrett said one day recently. "They ain't laughing now."

Indeed, no one near Utah's newest official town, Bryce Canyon City, is laughing. Most in Garfield County are mad as hornets.

"I don't think it has anything to do with ego, I think it's just about money," said Maloy Dodds, Garfield County commissioner.

And people in nearby hospitality businesses should beware, he says, because now Ruby's Inn gets $300,000 of its own sales tax revenues to use for advertising, building services or whatever will attract tourist dollars.

"I think this really puts pressure on the competition in Bryce Valley and Panguitch, and it's going to be a real drain on the businesses there," Dodds said. As a town, Ruby's Inn can also impose a resort community tax and generate even more revenue for itself.

"It just isn't right what they are doing," Dodds said. "It isn't right."

"Ruby's got a real good deal," said Brent Gardner, of the Utah Association of Counties. "They got a sweetheart deal."

21st century pioneers?

In July, Bryce Canyon City, population 138, became 244th on the list of Utah cities and towns.

The now-incorporated community takes in 2,300 acres at the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. In reality, the new Bryce Canyon City is Ruby's Inn, the now-massive Best Western resort founded by Syrett's grandfather, Reuben C. Syrett.

Everyone called him Ruby.

In the early 1900s, Ruby came to this area to homestead 160 acres. He initially ran mills but discovered a zest for tourism.

Today, Syrett's right-hand man is Jean Seiler, a former mayor of nearby Tropic, the longtime marketing director for Ruby's Inn and the de facto city manager of the new Bryce Canyon City.

"This is a new kind of pioneering," he said. "We are trying to figure out how to grow."

Because Ruby's officials first have the business to run, and with more than a million tourists visiting Bryce Canyon each year, 600 employees at the peak season and all the other responsibilities of being Garfield County's largest employer, the two haven't had much time to plan their office space or the city's next move.

The issue caught the attention of national media, too. A July story in the New York Times calls out: "In Utah, a 'Company Town' Means Just That."

Rod Syrett has said 73 of the 138 residents are his relatives. The rest work for his business. His new town council is made up of his employees, in-laws and direct relatives.

"It's bittersweet," said Kenda Porter, of the Bryce Canyon Resort property located nearby on U-12. The resort is outside of the city boundary. "A lot of people have said they are just downright greedy."

"We didn't do this out of greed," Syrett said. "We did it out of wanting to be a town."

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