Council frees parking
Main Street businesses hope free parking and a festival will be the antidote to an annual post-Thanksgiving traffic lull.
Against city staff’s recommendation, Park City Council granted the Historic Main Street Business Alliance approval on a Master Festival License application, which included a time-limited, but cost-free parking component from Nov. 24 to Dec. 17.
"This year we’re finally going to get a slice of the holiday shopping pie that we never get," HMBA member Mike Sweeney said.
Sweeney joined HMBA President and Cows owner Ken Davis, who provided the entire council chambers Java Cow cookies and coffee before the regular council meeting to "make sure everyone stayed awake." The Master Festival License for Holidays on Main was last on a long agenda.
Davis explained the vision for the festival was inspired by a similar event in Nantucket. The island discovered it could attract winter clientele with a holiday festival that included a drawing for prizes and other festive activities. It has since become a tradition that generates millions of dollars, according to Davis.
"Today [the Nantucket Holiday event] is a major event. Hotels are booked and shops are busy," he said.
Davis noted 40 Park City businesses had joined him to plan the event, and added that he expected to pick up 20 more by Thanksgiving.
Dec. 17, the final day of the festival, will feature $15,000 in cash and prizes, Santa Claus descending from Town Lift, a beer garden and live music.
Sweeney said sales taxes from holiday purchases during the event would cover any city revenue lost from the 24-day suspension of paid parking. The HMBA would like the event to become a Park City tradition to drum up business from the Wasatch Front during a typically lean period.
Eventually, the businessmen project the event will generate enough money to add $5 million to Summit County’s sales tax base, Sweeney said.
Park City Events and Facility Coordinator Max Paap and Brian Andersen, who oversees parking for the city, on behalf of the city staff, recommended approving the Master Festival License without free parking.
Not only would enforcement for the 230 extra spaces converted from metered parking to time-limited parking be difficult to enforce, it would create bad parking habits for new seasonal employees, they said. Furthermore, the city would need to compensate for lost ticket and meter revenue by drawing an estimated $30,000 from the General Fund or the Transit Fund to finance the debt.
In the past, festivals like Mustang car show that have closed the street have paid $2,760 a day, according to Andersen.
Andersen explained that staff thought merchants could market an already 75 percent free parking program as a promotion. The remaining metered spaces did not appear to discourage visitors in town, he said.
Council member Candace Erickson countered that the 11.6 percent increase in parking revenue the city has already collected this year would likely cover the cost, and added that since the China Bridge parking lot construction has reduced the number of available free spaces.
Andersen conceded both of Erickson’s points, admitting the free-to-paid parking ratio was currently about 60-40.
Council member Kay Calvert noted that Redstone Towne Center and Tanger Outlet Center businesses would also be using free parking as a way to capture the holiday shopping crowd and added that Old Town could use a competitive edge to attract business during that period. "Kimball Junction is absolutely going to draw a lot of shoppers and they’re going focus on free parking," she said. "I’m certainly in favor of this and I think we’ll get some locals, which I’m sure we’ve lost over the years." Council member Jim Hier joined Erickson in supporting the merchant’s request, provided staff would not add employees to the payroll.
"I don’t know that we’ll make up the $30,000, but I would be in favor of approving free parking," he said. "In the spirit of this experimental year, I would be in favor of taking a chance and giving it a try."
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.