Park City leaders and the organizers of the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night finalized an agreement to keep the top domestic marketplace of independent films in the city through at least 2026, crafting a deal that won support from the tourism industry in addition to City Hall and the festival.
The agreement starts with the 2014 festival, scheduled in January, and includes an out option for the final three years. To applause, the Park City Council approved the agreement on a 4-0 vote with Liza Simpson absent. The sides worked for months on the deal, almost exclusively in private meetings.
"We're committed to this community. We're part of this community," Sarah Pearce, a Park City-based co-managing director of the Sundance Institute, said in an interview after the vote.
Pearce said Sundance will keep its Utah offices at Silver Star on the edge of Thaynes Canyon through at least 2023. She said Sundance did not consider moving the festival to another place.
Mayor Dana Williams and the City Council did not discuss the agreement extensively on Thursday prior to the vote. The elected officials spent time considering the deal at a meeting last week. Williams, though, told Pearce she was instrumental.
"You're the one that made it happen," the mayor said.
One of the key sticking points between City Hall, the tourism industry and Sundance dealt with the years Martin Luther King Jr. Day falls during the festival. Park City and the tourism industry pressed Sundance to slightly move the festival dates in the years when there is a conflict. Sundance agreed to a change in the dates in those years in what was seen as a major concession on the part of the festival.
The tourism industry argued that if the festival shifted its dates off of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Park City could enjoy a busy three-day holiday weekend in addition to the 11 jammed days of Sundance. There is often a conflict between the holiday weekend and the festival. They overlap five times between 2015 and 2026. There is also an overlap in 2014, but the festival will occur as it was scheduled that year.
City Hall estimated it would have missed out on $14.4 million in revenues between 2015 and 2026 in the years that there would have been an overlap.
The slight shift in the dates in conflicting years will stretch the festival into the first few days of February. Sundance traditionally has ended in January. It will end as late as Feb. 3 in 2019, according to a chart submitted to the elected officials. Pearce acknowledged in her comments to the elected officials that the shift in the dates is a risk.
In an interview afterward, Pearce described the later dates during the overlap years as threatening Sundance's position as the first major film festival of the annual circuit. The January scheduling gives Sundance a wide selection of films to screen, including those in the important premiere category. Pearce said Sundance will overlap with a film festival in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in years when Sundance is moved back by the holiday.
City Hall and the Park City Chamber/Bureau will jointly provide a package of financial inducements as part of the deal. Sundance will continue to receive $430,000 in cash annually as well as the nearly $240,000 more in donated municipal services that were included in an earlier agreement. The festival will also receive an additional $111,545 on average annually from City Hall and fee rebates and donated services averaging $83,252 each year. The Chamber/Bureau will put another $50,649 toward the agreement each year generated from lodging taxes. The numbers will be adjusted annually based on the consumer price index.
The local government and the Chamber/Bureau see the financial inducement as being worthwhile given Sundance's status as the most lucrative event on Park City's busy event calendar. The festival this year pumped $69.5 million of economic impact into the state.
The agreement replaces one inked in 2005 that covered the festivals from 2007 until 2018 with an automatic renewal for another 10 years. That agreement gave either side the option to end the deal after 2018. Notice that either side planned to exercise the out option was due by Feb. 1, 2015.