The developer of a proposed theater and hotel complex at the mouth of Zion National Park said the media have blown environmental concerns over the project out of proportion.

Kieth Merrill of the California-based World Odyssey attended a panel at Dixie College in St. George where participants heard both sides of the debate over the controversial project.Favoring construction of a 300-seat giant screen theater and motel was Springdale City Councilman Dale Gilchrist, who said the project "is the type of project we want for Springdale."

Opposing it was Councilwoman Louise Excell, who said the project would violate Springdale's master plan and could pave the way for other developments that would detract from the city's rural flavor.

Gilchrist argued that Merrill was sensitive to the city's needs and argued that the complex would mean more revenue for city projects.

"I can understand the concerns of people who think it will damage the environment of Zion National Park," he said. "But I think this project can be developed without damaging the beauty and environment of the park.

"You could build a 50-story building there and it could never compare with the beauty of the park," said Gilchrist.

Such projects are exactly the kinds of things Excell said she fears.

She said the proposal violates the city's existing master plan and accused Gilchrist and others of attempting to amend the ordinances to fit the project.

"If the World Odyssey (project) goes in, it will signal that very large projects will be accepted whether they comply with the master plan or not," Excell said.

She said the project could open up a narrow, three-mile commercial strip to large-scale development that could diminish the quality of a park visitor's experience.

While acknowledging the master plan might be outdated, she said it should be enforced.

Merrill said national publicity over the project has triggered environmentalist outcries and threats of legal action if the project proceeds.

He said news accounts have distorted the project, adding that developers have so far made 22 changes in their original plan to appease critics.