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Community Shows Support for Arts and Culture Concept, But Division on Costs and Other Details


City council in Park City hosted a lengthy public hearing on the proposed arts and culture district Wednesday evening and heard a wide range of opinions from members of the community on the ambitious project.


With over two dozen speakers and hundreds of virtual participants between Zoom and Facebook Live, Wednesday’s public hearing was a thorough examination of the community’s opinions on the city’s bold proposal. 


Judging by the views expressed during the hearing by members of the community, the concept for the district has broad support, but the details  have people divided. 


Mayor Andy Beerman began the hearing by explaining the decision making behind the city’s acquisition of the five-acre parcel at the corner of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive in 2017. He said the $19.5 million the city paid was a move to protect the land from encroaching commercial interests.


“If we wanted a commercial development, or if we wanted a new tourist destination, we would have left this parcel in the hands of the private sector,” Beerman explained. “It’s not something the city would have bought to control the arc of our growth in this area.” 


City staff laid the financials of the project bare and detailed what the over $107 million price tag would buy.


Currently, studio and event spaces, a food hall, three additional bus stops, 230 underground parking spaces, and 50 units of affordable housing are part of the plans for the district. Future headquarters for both the Kimball Arts Center and Sundance Institute are also expected to be constructed at the site.


Affordable housing and the costs associated with it was one of the major sticking points with the public. Costs per unit are currently over $600,000.


Hilary Reiter runs a marketing and PR firm in Park City and said she has a hard time seeing how that cost could be worthwhile, even if the units are offered as rentals as the city intends to do.  


“I’m not very strong at math, but the math that I was able to do indicates an average of $640,000 cost per unit, as far as construction costs go,” Reiter said. “As somebody who works a lot with developers, that seems really disproportionately high to me and I don’t really understand how you could get much of a revenue stream from 50 rentals at that construction cost.”


In an effort to bring housing costs down, the city is currently exploring a public-private partnership model with developers. It is the city’s hope that a developer could see incentives like more units and the ability to offer up to 20% of them at market rates as attractive.


How the city plans to pay for the project also drew a number of concerns. The city believes they have a sound model to pay for the project through existing funding sources like the transient room tax, property sales, and existing bonds for transportation and walkability.


Some commenters asked what else the city could be getting for their money. Others asked what projects the city could be prevented from doing in the future if the money does all get spent on the district.


Community member Angela Moschetta passionately voiced concerns over the timing, costs, and whether or not the council was getting its priorities mixed up by focusing the project on arts and culture and not a more housing or transit focused vision. 


“In creative communities where arts thrive, art is everywhere,” said Moschetta. “City governments may subsidize nonprofits and projects, but they don’t go in and create taxpayer funded neighborhoods a la Disney-style theme parks around economic or creative sectors. Years ago I begged you all to not turn social equity into a critical priority, but rather make it a lens through which we evaluate the impact and value of all community projects and endeavours ... If we are ever to become a legitimate home to and attractive destination for arts and culture, we must start valuing and evaluating community projects, including transit, housing, development, walkability, sustainability, and events through a lens colored by these humanities.”


There were also a significant number of voices in strong support of the plans, like local woodworker and furniture maker Garth Franklin. He said Park City is increasingly becoming a less viable place to have a creative business and the arts and culture district would go a long way to keep him and other artists in town. 


“I kind of see myself as maybe a marker for the future of this arts community, but currently I’ve been looking about where to move to,” he shared. “Park City is just expensive and it doesn’t feel like it’s a culturally exciting place for me, so seeing this proposed project is awesome. It gives me a reason to get excited about Park City again, so I’m all for it. Just to know that, as a local artist who’s really supported by the community, I’ve got awesome clients and make beautiful furniture and I love this job, but I just don’t see a real future in Park City. Seeing the support from the town is super encouraging.”


City council discussions on the arts and culture district are ongoing and no decisions have been made on the future of the project.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.
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