Nestled among the red cliffs of St. George, the Dixie Center is quietly becoming a mecca for conventions and meetings along with a variety of other events.

Without much fanfare, mainly because it doesn't have much of an advertising budget, the center is becoming a viable entity in southern Utah, helping pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy.Although some people in Washington County still doubt the need for the center, many are gradually being won over to the fact that the center serves as a catalyst for St. George and surrounding Washington County, which depend heavily on outside money for its survival.

The center isn't a big moneymaker by itself, said Jim Ash, executive director, but it helps boost the local economy because of the events held there and also brings a sense of community pride to the area.

For example, the 1990 conventions and meetings scheduled for the center will bring $48,097 in rental income, but after expenses of $26,968 the net income to the center will be $21,149, Ash said. He said there aren't many convention centers that are moneymakers.

The idea of a convention center to work in conjunction with Dixie College in St. George had been in the talking stage for many years, Ash said, with former Dixie College presidents Wm. Rolfe Kerr and Alton Wade pushing for a joint facility used by the public and the college.

Special legislation came from the Legislature allowing creation of a special service district with a college. The legislation allows members of the district to be taxed to pay for general obligation bonds and a gradually decreasing mill levy.

The Legislature appropriated $4 million from mineral leasing money, the Community Impact Board loaned the district $2 million, the communities issued $3.5 million in general obligation bonds and the remainder of the $12.8 million is being raised by the Dixie College Foundation.

The names attached to the buildings are evidence that the fund-raising effort has been successful.

Members of the special service district are Washington County, St. George, Ivins, Santa Clara, Leeds, New Harmony, Washington, Toquerville and Springdale.

What they have are the 18,960 square-foot Smith's Convention Center, the 26,228 square-foot M. K. Cox Performing Arts Center, the 52,920 square-foot M. Anthony Burns Arena and the 10,388 square-foot George S. Eccles Fitness Center.

The land where the center is located is leased to the center by the college for 50 years with the proviso the college can utilize the facilities at least 55 percent of the time. Ash said use of the facilities is a cooperative effort that provides enough time and space for the conventions, meetings and concerts and also allows for classroom instruction.

Before the center was completed, special events were held in old college buildings and in high school facilities. Conventions were unheard of. Because of the center, Ash said, St. George is becoming known as a good location for meetings, conventions and cultural activities, especially in the winter when temperatures cool down but are still warmer than northern areas.

Although the center doesn't have much of an advertising budget, the center's 20-member board of directors hired Preferred Hospitality Group, owned by Mike Fletcher and Ed Pilkerton, the same people who manage the restored Peery Hotel in Salt Lake City.

Preferred Hospitality publishes an annual brochure extolling the virtues of the St. George area and the center's convention possibilities, sets up tours of the area, hosts familiarization tours for people considering holding meetings at the center, provides technical information and drums up publicity through the news media.

With 2,200 rooms in St. George, Pamela Hilton, sales and events coordinator for the center, said the area is equipped to handle meetings and conventions. She said the area is attractive for conventions and meetings because of the weather, the scenic beauty, low prices, the small-town atmosphere and service by the college students hired to cater the food and other services.

And for those who like to indulge in gambling, Mesquite, Nev., is only 37 miles south, and Las Vegas is only 117 miles away by interstate highway.