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Fest films mulled at rink

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Sundance Film Festival organizers and a City Hall official acknowledge there has been preliminary but informal contact centered on turning the Park City Ice Arena into a screening venue during the 2008 festival, an arrangement that could put thousands more prized festival tickets into circulation.

The two sides emphasize the discussions have not advanced and Stacey Noonan, the general manager of the Quinn’s Junction sports complex, where the arena sits, says there has been one phone conversation between herself and Sundance, in mid-2006.

In a recent report to Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council, though, Noonan wrote, "Sundance is possibly interested in using the facility for a film venue next year."

Sundance fans, who frequently have trouble getting the sought-after tickets, will likely cheer the prospects of showing films at the ice arena. Although details have not been considered, the seating capacity at the ice arena would probably be among the largest of Sundance’s theaters.

"We really haven’t had formal discussions about using that facility," says Laynee Jones, who directs the festival’s operations for Sundance. "Nobody’s ever been to look at it."

But she admits, "we’re always keeping our eyes peeled" for potential spaces to show movies. Jones says Sundance organizers are finalizing issues from this year’s festival and have not started considering the plans for the 2008 edition, which is scheduled Jan. 17-27.

Jones says Sundance typically sets its budget between April and June. Around that time, organizers would decide whether to approach City Hall about the ice arena. If so, the Park City Council would consider the request.

"Technically, could we do it? Yes. You give us a building and we can build a theater in it," Jones says.

If Sundance pursues a venue at the ice arena, the outcome would hinge on a series of government decisions and an arena upgrade critical to setting up a theater. They would probably be made through the spring and early summer.

Noonan expects City Hall will purchase and install flooring for the ice rink by early April, the upgrade that Sundance would need. The flooring, anticipated to be priced at $100,000 and funded with tax grants from Summit County, would be put on top of the ice, allowing the arena to host what are known as ‘dry-floor events,’ like sports tournaments and luncheons.

Meanwhile, City Attorney Mark Harrington says the land where the ice arena sits was primarily donated to the local government with the restriction that it be used for recreational or educational purposes. Harrington says City Hall would have to decide whether a Sundance theater fits either of those categories. He indicates that determination would not be made unless Sundance asks to use the arena.

He also says the City Council would need to reconsider wide-ranging rules governing the ice rink, which do not allow dry-floor events in the winter.

The ice arena debuted in early 2006 after voters in Park City and the Snyderville Basin approved $4 million in bonds to build the facility. The construction cost $4.8 million and City Hall is trying to sell the naming rights to the arena for between $800,000 and $1 million to recoup the money.

Dry-floor events have been contemplated since the arena was in the planning stages.

The festival is seen as the top marketplace of independent films in the U.S. and it is one of the most renown on the world circuit. "Super Size Me," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "Napoleon Dynamite" are among the recent hits that showed at Sundance before winning national acclaim.

Turning the arena into a Sundance venue would stretch the festival through much of the West Side, in a triangle with corners in Park City, at Kimball Junction and at Quinn’s Junction.

It would also continue a significant expansion of festival seating, driven by Sundance’s widening popularity. Tickets for many films are tough to get and sold-out screenings are the norm at many of the festival’s theaters.

In 2007, the festival debuted public screenings at Redstone 8 Cinemas at Kimball Junction and, two years earlier, the organizers added to the schedule showings at the gymnasium at the Racquet Club.

"More theaters increases butts in seats," Jones says. "That’s obvious."


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