Park City and the Sundance Film Festival have been successful partners for three decades. In 2013 the festival reportedly generated $70 million in the state, much of that in Park City. But there has always been one particular bone of contention: Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
The controversy has nothing to do with civil rights and everything to do with finding enough room in January to accommodate the burgeoning crowds drawn to both an internationally acclaimed film festival and three world-class ski resorts.
But a solution is in the works. Thursday, the Park City Council is scheduled to discuss a proposed contract with the Sundance Institute that would eliminate the conflict and ensure the festival is held in Park City for another 13 years.
As proposed, beginning in 2015, Sundance would delay the start of the festival in those years when it would otherwise overlap with the long MLK weekend. For instance, in 2015 the 10-day event would start Jan. 22 and continue through Feb. 1 instead of starting on Jan. 15 and ending Jan. 25. The new schedule would also affect the festivals in 2019, 2020, 2025 and 2026. However, there will still be an overlap in 2014.
In the past, Sundance officials resisted changing the dates of the festival because of its position at the start of the international film festival calendar. As the first major festival of the year, Sundance has been able to offer a full slate of world premieres and avoid conflicts with other film industry events, primarily those held in Europe during the early part of the year.
In return for that concession, the contract calls on Park City Municipal and the Park City Chamber/Bureau to offer Sundance additional compensation on top of their existing cash and value-in-kind contributions which total approximately $669,000.
According to Park City Manager Diane Foster, as per the proposed agreement, the city would pay Sundance an additional $111,545 annually. The Park City Chamber/Bureau would add another $50,649 each year of the contract term. The amount is based on the estimated increase in sales tax revenues the city reaps when the two events do not overlap.
If the contract is approved as proposed, the city would also waive about $70,000 in annual facility rental fees previously collected from Sundance for screening areas at the Park City Library and the PC MARC.
According to a study comparing business activity when the MLK holiday coincided with the festival and when there was no conflict, Foster said the difference is about $4.2 million in incremental revenue. In her view, she said, it is a good business deal for both entities.
"That's a crazy good investment," she said adding that over the years the Sundance Film Festival has become an important part of the town's brand. "It makes us more than just a ski town."
The proposed contract also tweaks some operational and safety issues and outlines an overall tightening of regulations aimed at the myriad temporary businesses that set up that are not directly affiliated with Sundance. Those rules include new prohibitions on off-premises commercial signs, temporary business licenses and street-vending permits during the festival.
The Park City Council will discuss the proposed contract in a work session Thursday at 3:40 p.m. A public hearing and possible vote is scheduled Thursday, Sept. 12.