Gondola deemed unworkable
A gondola between Empire Pass and Old Town, once a buzz-generating transit idea, is unworkable, a task force has determined, likely ending the possibility that it will ever be built.
The government task force is considering changes the Empire Pass developers are seeking to their overall agreement with City Hall regulating how the project, located on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort, is constructed.
The changes generally are centered on the developers’ desire to construct an upscale hotel, known as the Montage. As Park City officials were considering the request from Talisker Deer Valley, the Empire Pass developer, there was talk in 2005 about whether the gondola was a smart option to reduce traffic. That led to speculation that the gondola idea would be revived after several years of dormancy.
Instead, a recent report to the Park City Planning Commission says that the task force found the "gondola is not feasible as traffic mitigation or in the public interest."
If the gondola is not built, the developers are required to pay City Hall $1 million and spend another $1 million in an effort to reduce traffic, potentially through a park-and-ride lot, according to the report.
Talisker official Mandy Scully did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The idea of an Empire Pass gondola was among the intriguing points of the Empire Pass negotiations in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the project was known as Flagstaff.
United Park City Mines, the developer at the time, proposed several iterations of a gondola, including an early option that would have traveled down Empire Pass to lower Swede Alley along a route near Marsac Avenue and the Sandridge parking lot.
Later, there was talk about a gondola linking Empire Pass, Park City Mountain Resort and Main Street. That idea called for a route from the core of Empire Pass, to a mid-mountain spot at PCMR and then connecting with PCMR’s Town Lift, which links to Main Street.
The Empire Pass-PCMR-Main Street route was seen as the preferred option at the time and many people compared the idea to a gondola in Telluride, Colo., which travels between nearby downtown and a ritzy slopeside community known as Mountain Village.
In Park City, the initial boosters saw a gondola as a way to reduce traffic along S.R. 224, which twists between Empire Pass and Old Town, where neighbors have long been worried about traffic from the project.
"It eliminates a number of the day trips like, ‘Let’s run down for a T-shirt’ or ‘Let’s run down for dinner,’" Hank Rothwell, the former president of the mining company, told The Park Record in 1998, as he announced the gondola idea.
The supporters also saw the gondola as the potential impetus to, in some fashion, link Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort, a hope of tourism boosters to make Park City more competitive with other ski destinations.
At the time, the mining company priced the gondola at $5 million, using the original route to lower Swede Alley, near where City Hall built the Old Town transit center. It is unclear how much a gondola with the revised route through PCMR would cost now.
Roger Harlan, a Park City Councilman who held office as the initial gondola discussions unfolded, says he is not disappointed it will not be built. He says that, since the idea was unveiled, he questioned whether a gondola would be effective in reducing traffic.
"I was never convinced it would accomplish what it set out to accomplish," Harlan says, adding that the gondola’s price tag likely influenced Talisker Deer Valley’s decision. "I suspect, whether it worked or not, the people who were going to write the checks decided it was too pricey for them."
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Park City wants to execute a public-relations effort to outline the concept to build a facility along the S.R. 248 entryway to store soils containing contaminants from Park City’s silver-mining era, outlining a 60-day effort designed to explain the idea as many Parkites appear to be concerned about the prospects of a project.