Like a blockbuster, Sundance business drops sharply after opening days |

Like a blockbuster, Sundance business drops sharply after opening days

Sundance Film Festival organizers presented City Hall a festival poster autographed by award winners from 2018 at a recent City Council meeting that included a discussion about Sundance operations. From left: City Councilor Lynn Ware Peek, Assistant City Manager Matt Dias and City Councilor Tim Henney chat during a break in the meeting.
Jay Hamburger/Park Record

Like many Hollywood blockbusters, Sundance Film Festival business drops sharply after the opening weekend.

The crowds in Park City fall after the first few days, Main Street businesses are not as packed as they are during the first Thursday-through-Sunday stretch and there is not the same traffic or competition for parking spots in the Main Street core.

City Hall, Sundance organizers, Main Street businesses and others have started discussions about festival operations as part of an annual look at the festival in anticipation of crafting operational plans for the next one. The sides typically spend months in talks as Sundance considers operational changes while other interest groups, such as Main Street, study the potential impacts of any alterations.

The talks are in their early stages after a recent meeting involving Park City’s elected officials, Sundance organizers and people with interests on Main Street. It appears some of the discussions in coming months will center on the dip after the opening weekend and operational changes that could be instituted in an attempt to boost business toward the middle and end of the 11 days of the festival.

The recent Park City Council meeting was held as a review of the operations of the 2018 event rather than a detailed look at the possibilities for 2019. But it is anticipated the discussions about next year’s event will start in earnest shortly. The upcoming talks could draw more interest than is typical since the parties must also plan for the partial overlap in dates between Sundance and the FIS World Championships in freestyle disciplines in 2019.

A longtime Main Street business owner provided some of the most intriguing testimony at the recent City Council meeting. Ken Davis owns Java Cow, a coffee and ice cream shop on Main Street that is jammed at many points during the festival, telling the elected officials of a sharp sales drop after the opening weekend.

“Traffic falls off precipitously,” Davis said.

He said Main Street businesses have indicated the fall in sales after the first weekend can be as much as 25 percent.

There has been concern along Main Street about City Hall’s overall parking restrictions and modifications to the paid-parking system during Sundance. The municipal government tightly restricts parking in the Main Street core during Sundance and increases parking rates. The restrictions and higher rates are meant to discourage people from driving to Main Street at a time when traffic is some of the worst of the year anyway.

Davis argued City Hall should return the parking systems to normal operations after the opening weekend. He said there is not a reason to charge the higher rates throughout the festival.

The elected officials were not prepared to discuss potential changes to operations in any depth and will likely do so later in the year as City Hall staffers and Sundance organizers return with detailed proposals. It was not clear whether the comments from Davis will influence officials to consider a major modification to the parking operations.

Becca Gerber, a City Councilor, though, said perhaps parking operations could return to normal after the opening days since the regular paid-parking system has been expanded. The expanded paid parking is meant to accomplish many of the same goals as the system in place during Sundance. Gerber, though, said traffic should not be equated with vibrancy.

Parking was expected to be a key topic at the recent meeting in the days before the gathering since there have been concerns for years about what is a crucial issue in festival planning. City Hall staffers in anticipation of the recent meeting issued a report indicating they plan to reconsider parking rates in the Main Street core after the opening weekend. The report, though, also noted traffic could become worse if parking prices are dropped.

Sundance is widely seen as the top film festival in the U.S. and one of the elite ones on the global circuit. Crowds of film lovers, celebrity gawkers and entertainment journalists jam into Park City for the festival. The event has grown substantially over the years, increasing the stakes of the annual discussions between City Hall, festival organizers and the other interest groups.

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