Park City addresses vacancies on Main Street
October 11, 2016
If City Hall has its way, you may notice something different on your next trip to Main Street: fewer vacant buildings.
At a City Council meeting last week, officials explored ways to limit the number of buildings on Main Street without permanent tenants. The discussion came after City Hall staffers released a report detailing their findings from a months-long look into vacancies and tenant mix in Park City's historic district.
The report concludes that, while the 12 vacancies on Main Street — at least two of which have recently found tenants — isn't an abnormal number compared to other towns, it is enough to harm the business environment in the area.
Some buildings remain vacant, the report states, because their owners see it as more lucrative to rent them out only during special events such as the Sundance Film Festival. Staffers found that the best way for City Hall to combat those kind of vacancies is to change business and liquor license codes to prevent owners of buildings without year-round tenants from renting during special events. They recommend the City Council implement such a change in February, 2017.
However, the City Council at last week's meeting expressed a desire to put a measure in place before this winter. They added, though, that any change should include an appeal process for owners who have extenuating reasons for renting out their buildings for special events.
Mayor Jack Thomas also supported making a change as soon as possible.
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"I'd like to see it become effective sooner rather than later, because I think we've been talking about this a long time," he said at the meeting. "Kicking it down the road another year doesn't feel right."
Michael Barille, executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, which advocates for businesses on Main Street, told the City Council that the majority of business owners also favor acting right away.
Jonathan Weidenhamer, the city's economic development manager and one of the authors of the report, said in an interview that the City Council could vote on implementing a change within a month. He added that getting full-time tenants in even some of the vacant buildings could make a big difference for other businesses on Main Street that rely on the area being walkable and vibrant.
"Any vacancy is not good," he said. "It really does impact our health and our vibrancy and our fabric."
The report also discusses the possibility of City Hall doing things to make vacant buildings look better to passersby, such as installing lights outside of them or putting flowers in their windows. Weidenhamer said there are a lot of details to work out, however, before the city could begin doing that.
"That one's going to need a lot more work and a lot more coordination across departments to figure out funding and how it really works," he said.
The report also delves into the tenant mix on Main Street. In recent years, small merchants have become worried about the number of chain stores opening that can more easily pay the rapidly rising cost of rent in the area. The fear is that the chain stores may eventually force out mom-and-pop merchants.
Weidenhamer said the staff consensus is that it isn't City Hall's role to get involved in the free market in order to influence the tenant mix. The report states that vacancies seem to be worse for Main Street than the influx of chain stores that fit Park City's mountain style.
The City Council did not discuss tenant mix at last week's meeting, but is expected to do so in the future.
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