Over the past 29 years, Park City and the Sundance Institute have worked together to ensure the Institute's marquis event, the 10-day Sundance Film Festival, was a mutual success. And according to a recent economic study, it appears the effort has been a success. Last January, the festival reportedly generated $70 million in economic activity 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. Next Thursday, the Park City Council is scheduled to vote on extending its current contract with the Sundance Institute with new provisions that would that would eliminate the conflict and ensure the festival is held in Park City for another 13 years. The current agreement was scheduled to lapse in 2018.
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, because of time constraints, there will still be an overlap in 2014.
Park City's three ski areas and members of the business community, in recent years, have complained that the growing festival has encroached on lodging and restaurant availability during what has become one of the busiest ski holidays of the year nationwide.
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 representatives say they have been able to offer a full slate of world premieres and avoid conflicts with other film industry events and festivals. delaying the festival, they risk losing some potential premiere screenings and could end up competing with the next festival in the lineup.
In return for that concession, the new contract calls on Park City Municipal and the Park City Chamber/Bureau to offer Sundance additional compensation on top of existing cash and value-in-kind contributions which total approximately $669,000.
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, the difference is about $4.2 million in incremental revenue.
The proposed contract also outlines an overall tightening of regulations aimed at the myriad temporary businesses drawn to the festival's limelight. Those rules include new prohibitions on off-premises commercial signs, temporary business licenses and street-vending permits during the festival with the intent of protecting Sundance's brand.
The proposed contract was presented to the council during its work session this week and drew little comment. But according to Councilmember Liza Simpson, "that is because we have been working on it for so long."
On Friday she said, "I think we are all thrilled we have gotten to this point and we are appreciative to all those from the Chamber, the business community alliances and most of all to Sarah (Pearce, of the Sundance Institute) who helped make this happen."
Park City Chamber Bureau President Bill Malone offered his support on behalf of the business community saying, "We are ecstatic that we have been able to do this." He added that when the Sundance Film festival was first held in Park City, there was no MLK holiday, but now it is a vital part of the ski season.
The Park City Council has scheduled a public hearing and possible vote on the issue during its regular session Thursday, Sept. 12.