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Park City

Sundance going hybrid has mixed reviews in Park City

Sign welcomes the festival to Park City

Sundance is not returning to an all in-person festival in 2023. Some Parkites have weighed in on what this means for them.  

Sundance is synonymous with Park City. Kind of like peanut butter and jelly, the two go together.

The city has been home to the festival since 1981 and benefits from the money it brings to the community. In 2019, Sundance generated $182.5 million for the state, with the bulk of that pouring into Park City and surrounding Summit County.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sundance went virtual in 2021 and had planned a hybrid model for 2022 before the Omicron outbreak forced the festival online again. With the announcement of another hybrid model for 2023, some business owners are relieved while others are concerned.

Randy Winzeler is the owner of Atticus, a tea and coffee shop on Main Street. He says Atticus wouldn’t have grown into a successful business without all the years of the festival, but with the recent surge of tourism in Park City, it’s Sundance all winter long, “Yeah, so if you would have told me five years ago, Sundance wasn't happening I definitely would have been in panic mode. But as things have progressed in town, especially the last two years, it's gotten so busy that it just seems like it's one more thing that not have to deal with. And we're so busy constantly during the winter that Sundance is not as huge of financial benefit as it used to be. Having that, it's just more mentally draining on the staff and ourselves especially.”

Winzeler says to accommodate the traffic that Sundance would generate, his business would jump through hoops, “And the only way Sundance was such a benefit for us is we had to change around our system to be able to accommodate so many more people to make it profitable. So we're bringing in extra staff, we'd bring an extra coffee machine, extra register and limit our food menu and just do all the things we could to get as many people through the line as fast as possible. So to not have to change that whole system around and just operate as normal is a lot less stressful.”

Mike Sweeney, whose family has been in Park City since the 1930’s and watched it go from a ghost town to a boom town, owns numerous buildings on Main Street.

He has worked with Sundance for two decades and acts as the liaison between the Sundance Institute and many of the sponsors that rent out buildings in town to hold events for the duration of the festival. He says he’s not sure what the future will hold if Sundance keeps a hybrid model going forward, “But I believe that the Sundance Institute has been a very good partner for Park City. And over the years, and they've got a tough road to hoe. I don't know what they're gonna plan on doing or not doing. But if they do something similar, they can't do what they did last year. So if they're going to do this special hybrid, I don't know how many people companies are going to come in and spend, you know, anywhere from a half a million to a million dollars fixing someplace up. And then at the very last minute, there's nobody at home to take advantage of it.”

Sweeney says that without festivals like Sundance, Park City could face some real challenges. He has seen several businesses that have not made it in the last two years.

The Sundance Institute has yet to confirm whether the hybrid model is here to stay or if they plan to return to an in-person festival in 2024.

They recently sent a survey to all the season passholders and intends to use the results to chart a course for the next five years.