Less Sundance hoopla makes it hard to pay rent
Without judging whether fewer unsanctioned parties, events and lounges is good or bad for the Sundance Film Festival, it’s safe to say it’s bad for Main Street merchants.
The past two festivals have been scaled down from previous years meaning fewer agencies are renting out space on Main Street. For merchants who used to count on the money from those two weeks to pay for four, even five month’s rent during the shoulder seasons, it’s bad news.
Last year Mike Sweeney, whose family owns the Town Lift Plaza and other properties on Main Street, predicted Sundance leases in 2009 would be down 40 to 45 percent. This year he predicts it to be slightly below that, but not much. The real problem is lease rates are less.
This year the windfall will likely cover two or two and a half months, he said.
"The reality is a number of people aren’t making rent, and I have to adjust to that reality," he added.
In addition to paying less for being here, agencies are spending less on what they’re planning, too. His double-decker tent on the plaza is now a single, he said.
Heidi Hughes with Summit Events helps line merchants up with festival-related renters. She said it’s too early to compare this year to last because, like skiers booking hotel rooms, companies are deciding whether to come, what they want and what they can afford much later.
Deals she facilitated in December were previously made in October, she said. In her experience, people are offering half as much or less for the two-week rent.
"A lot of really desirable spaces are still available on Main Street," she said. "Many of those who were able to rent out are doing so at a considerable discount from what they got or might have got a couple years ago."
That may or may not be good for the festival, but buzz is good for the town.
"If you’ve got an event or someplace everyone wants to be and be seen, that’s good for everybody," she said.
When attendance is down, the opposite is true, she added.
Nancy Zierk with the Robert Kelly Gallery said they almost had a tenant, but it fell through Wednesday. She sensed it coming, though, because the prospective tenant wouldn’t sign anything.
It’s a disappointment because business is slow during the festival, but she wasn’t relying on the money to pay any bills.
Thomas Cushman, director of the Meyer Gallery, said they are able to host someone this year. They tried last festival but nothing worked out. They did more outreach this time and found someone who is paying a little less than what they made in 2008, but not significantly, he said.
Lindsey Larsen with the Montgomery Lee Gallery said it makes sense to do whatever it takes to rent out during Sundance because attendees aren’t there to buy art.
She wouldn’t comment on the amount they received, but said all three floors will be rented out and the top floor was renovated just for that purpose. Whether or not rentals are down from previous years, they’re still a boon to participating merchants.
Jared Briggs with Lunatic Fringe said they’ll continue servicing hair during the festival but wanted a renter this year and last. People just offered too little to make it worth it.
Most of his clients are locals who stay away during the two weeks, so like Montgomery Lee it makes sense to rent out. But unless they can beat what he’d make staying open, it just isn’t worth all the work to clear the space.
That’s the problem Casey Crawford ran into. She runs Prospect, a boutique on Main Street. People wanted the space for three or four nights not enough to justify the work of moving and storing all their merchandise.
Luckily, someone offered to rent the space for a single night and doesn’t require any major changes to it. She said they’re excited to be involved in the festival, make a little extra, and believe they’ll move merchandise as well.
Katie Stellpflug with the Alpine Internet Café said they’re not leasing out this year but likewise expects to make money. Unlike a hair salon or an art gallery, people will still want Internet access and coffee. Staying open during the second week of Sundance last year brought great business. The locals also appreciate the fact that they were open, she said.
Lindzee O’Michaels plans to split the festival this year. They’ll host a visiting night club for four days, but bartender Casey Bryce said she’ll be surprised if they do it again in the future.
It’s a lot of hassle for a short period of time, she said.
Not everyone is lamenting a slower Sundance. The Stanfield Gallery is hosting The Music Café this year and Ashlee Cook said it was a real coup for the gallery.
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