Gondola holdout presses others | ParkRecord.com

Gondola holdout presses others

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Holdout Park City Councilman Joe Kernan pressed the others on the panel on Thursday to revive an almost decade-old idea to build a gondola linking Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort and, probably, Old Town.

Kernan is the concept’s chief supporter at City Hall as the government appears to be nearing a decision on the long-running talks about the Empire Pass developer’s desire to build a luxury hotel known as the Montage on the slopes of Deer Valley.

On Thursday, the elected officials spoke at length with the development team about a deal that would allow the Montage in exchange for city benefits like conserving open space at PCMR and an outlying park-and-ride lot along S.R. 248.

The City Council on Thursday was not prepared to vote on the deal, delaying a decision until Feb. 1, at the earliest.

If it is approved as currently drafted, Park City would annex 2,800 acres of land west of the city, including PCMR ground not already in the municipal borders. The land would then be protected from development in a conservation agreement, among lesser deal points.

The elected officials on Thursday also spent considerable time discussing water issues related to the deal, without reaching an accord.

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Regular Parkites have largely been uninterested in the discussions, ongoing for more than a year, and meetings, including the one on Thursday, have generally attracted people with business or land interests hinging on the decision.

The developers are trying to convince the City Council to change earlier agreements outlining the limits of Empire Pass, which was approved after a polarizing debate that stretched through much of the 1990s.

The gondola discussion has been among the most intriguing of the Montage talks, with the idea of a route linking Old Town, PCMR and Deer Valley being revisited after years of dormancy. Such an option, the supporters say, would cut traffic between Empire Pass and Old Town.

Others, though, doubt it would be effective as a means to reduce the number of cars on the Mine Road, the most direct route between Old Town and the development.

In the 1990s, United Park City Mines, which shepherded Empire Pass through the first set of necessary City Hall approvals, considered a gondola as a method to lessen traffic between Old Town and the development, located near Deer Valley’s Northside Express and Empire Express chairlifts.

The idea was modeled after a gondola linking the historic district of Telluride, Colo., with a slopeside village.

Support for a local gondola diminished as details and costs were considered. There were not widespread public discussions again until recently.

Tourism boosters would see an Old Town- PCMR-Deer Valley gondola as an advantage over other mountain destinations. It would likely also be envisioned as a way to advance a so-called ‘interconnect’ between the three local mountain resorts. Linking PCMR, Deer Valley and The Canyons has been a desire of some for years but has proven elusive.

If a gondola is not built, the developers must put up $2 million to try to reduce traffic. The talks have keyed on the potential of building a park-and-ride lot.

A task force that considered the Montage deal did not favor a gondola and a majority of the City Council has previously been uninterested in one.

On Thursday, Kernan asked that the gondola idea stay intact until a study into its effectiveness is completed. City Councilman Jim Hier was especially reluctant, though, saying it would be "unconscionable" to do so because, he said, the idea had been studied in detail before.

After the meeting adjourned and the parties left the City Council chambers, the City Council continued discussing the gondola for a few minutes.

A report submitted to the elected officials indicates that the developer has agreed to put up $10,000 to study the potential of a gondola meant for skiers, not as a transit option, if others chip in.

Officials from Deer Valley and PCMR on Thursday questioned whether a gondola would be successful. Bob Wells, from Deer Valley, said the resort concluded that the gondola would not reduce traffic. Jenni Smith, a PCMR official, indicated likewise. She said a gondola trip between the Town Lift’s bottom terminal and Empire Pass, the route that has been discussed, is not practical.

"That’s too long of a ride," she said.