City Hall official: Sundance could leave Park City before decade’s end
February 17, 2012
A high-ranking City Hall official has broached the idea that the organizers of the Sundance Film Festival could move the nation’s top marketplace of independent films out of Park City by the end of the decade.
It is a scenario that would almost certainly mobilize the local government in an attempt to ensure the event remains in Park City.
Jon Weidenhamer, who directs City Hall’s economic development programs, included the idea as part of a broad report to Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council as the elected officials prepared for recent goal-setting meetings. Weidenhamer said the elected officials did not spend extensive time on the topic during the meetings.
The Weidenhamer report has not garnered widespread publicity, but the suggestion that Sundance might move out of Park City could grab the attention of various business segments — such as the lodging and restaurant industries — that post strong numbers during the festival. Sundance in 2011 generated nearly $71 million in economic impact, a broad measure of the money put into the economy through the festival. It is the most lucrative event on Park City’s calendar.
The suggestion could also be displeasing to the large bloc of movie buffs in the city who say Sundance provides an opportunity to see the work of some of the world’s best independent filmmakers.
City Hall and Sundance last decade inked a landmark deal that kept the festival in Park City and situated the Sundance Institute’s Utah offices in Park City. There had been occasional talk for years before that point that Sundance might move the festival out of Park City, perhaps putting it in Salt Lake City.
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According to Weidenhamer’s report, a 10-year option attached to the City Hall-Sundance deal would become effective in 2018. Notice that the 10-year option will be exercised must be provided by 2015, the report said.
"Staff believes Sundance may intend to use that option to either leave Park City, or at minimum ask to renegotiate the contract," Weidenhamer wrote in the report.
The Sundance-City Hall relationship covers a broad range of issues centered on the festival itself. The Sundance side, as an example, has long urged City Hall to tightly regulate the presence of corporate interests that lack direct sponsorship ties to the festival as a means to protect the festival’s official sponsors. The Weidenhamer report indicates issues related to the corporate interests will be discussed alongside other Sundance-related topics in May. Issues that could be addressed at that point also include the needs of local businesses, the report says.
Another topic, and one that could prove complicated, deals with the possibility of scheduling the festival so that it does not coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. The thinking is the federal holiday, on a Monday, could be an important three-day weekend for business in Park City if Sundance is not occurring at the same time. That way the local economy could enjoy a strong three-day weekend in addition to Sundance’s 10-day run, the thinking holds. Sundance and the federal holiday coincide at times.
Sundance, however, could be reluctant to tinker with the dates. It is the year’s first major festival on the world circuit, and the organizers see the January timing as a competitive advantage.
"Our job is to find the right balance between the year-round businesses, the resort economy and Sundance’s needs," Weidenhamer said in an interview.
A Sundance spokesperson declined to discuss the Weidehamer report but said organizers see Park City as being a "huge part of our success" in the 2012 festival. The spokesperson also said Sundance looks forward to issuing its economic report later in the year, organizers will be preparing for the 2013 festival and they will be "continuing to work with our friends in the local community."