After years of growth, business during Sundance stalls | ParkRecord.com

After years of growth, business during Sundance stalls

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

For Micah Goddard, the workdays were long during the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Slinging slices of pizza and tacos at Davanza’s, a Park Avenue pizza shop, Goddard remembers working into the wee hours.

The lunch rush was big but the dinner rush was busier. Then the after-hours crowd stopped in, keeping business humming until about 2 a.m.

"It was super-busy," he says. "It was a line of serving people after people, probably a nonstop line until 1:30."

He was making good money during the festival and a report issued by the festival’s organizers on Monday shows lots of businesses tallied impressive figures during Sundance, the prime event on Park City’s calendar.

But Sundance’s impressive economic growth stalled in 2007, according to University of Utah researchers hired to conduct an annual post-festival report detailing the impact Sundance has on the local and state economies.

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The report shows the festival generated just less than $52.1 million in economic activity in Summit County, down slightly from the $52.9 million the researchers determined the 2006 festival pumped into the local economy. The sums do not include what people spent flying to Utah, renting cars, buying film tickets and spending on private functions, like invitation-only dinners and receptions, which are popular during the festival.

Statewide economic activity also dropped slightly, to about $59.6 million in 2007 from $61.5 million the year before. Attendance dipped, with 48,298 people at the 2007 edition, down from 52,850 the year before.

Many Parkites and businesspeople did not notice the small drops during Sundance, which was held the last third of January. At the time, businesses reported brisk sales, as is typical during Sundance. Hotels rooms were booked months ahead of time, restaurants were usually either packed or rented for private parties and there were lines of people in shops on Main Street.

"We’re thrilled to be as healthy as we are, to be one of the Top 5 festivals in the world," says Jill Miller, the managing director of the institute and Sundance’s top Utah-based staffer.

She says the drops in attendance and economic-activity figures are within the study’s margin of error, meaning that the actual numbers may match those of the year before.

Miller says Sundance organizers did not push to grow the festival in 2007. Park City is too small for lots more growth and it is already tough to find lodging during the festival, she says.

"Certainly we know Park City is of finite size," Miller says.

Sundance is seen as the best domestic marketplace of independent films and, with those in Cannes, France, Toronto and Berlin, one of the top festivals on the global circuit. Recent hits that screened at Sundance include "Super Size Me," "The Blair Witch Project" and "Napoleon Dynamite."

The festival draws huge crowds of movie lovers, celebrities and industry insiders. Many Parkites see it as a lucrative period during a time that, before Sundance’s popularity widened, had been an after-holiday lull in the ski season.

"The impact of Sundance on the community is bigger than just money," Miller says, explaining the festival creates global notoriety for Park City and is a prime cultural event for the city.

On Main Street, the biggest party spot during Sundance, crowds were big but the leader of the merchants says business was not as good as the previous year. Ken Davis, who has Cows and Java Cow on Main Street and is the president of the Historic Main Street Business Alliance, says he cannot figure out why business dipped but he adds the festival remains an "economic boom for the whole city."

"Of course Sundance was good," Davis says.

At Davanza’s, Goddard, the worker with the long Sundance hours, recalls the tip jar being stuffed. On a normal night in the ski season, maybe the diners would leave $150 in the jar. During Sundance, about twice as much was left for the workers, split between seven or so of them.

"After three or four days of being here until four in the morning and being back here at 11, it started to wear me out," Goddard says.