Mayor once envisioned Treasure bought as open space |

Mayor once envisioned Treasure bought as open space

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

In the early weeks of 2009, long before Treasure would become a pivotal issue in that fall’s City Hall elections, Mayor Dana Williams sat down to contemplate what the city government could accomplish in the coming years.

It was part of an exercise undertaken each year by Williams and the members of the Park City Council, and Williams at the time understood the Sweeney family’s idea to build Treasure was of significance even though the development blueprints had not reached the elected officials.

Already the mayor was coming up with ideas for a solution to Treasure, which had become the most polarizing development proposal brought to City Hall since the project that would become Empire Pass was approved years earlier.

On a sheet labeled ‘Eyes on the Future – 2015,’ the mayor briefly addressed Treasure, putting the development proposal with four other topics under the heading "Goals 2010: Achievable Outcomes." The mayor said on the sheet he envisioned City Hall purchasing the Treasure land as open space in 2010, an ambitious idea given there had been little interest from the Sweeneys in such a deal.

But the 2009 statement from the mayor, which was provided to the elected officials recently in anticipation of this year’s ‘visioning’ meeting, a wide-ranging discussion about City Hall’s priorities, illustrates the difficulties officials continue to have as the talks about Treasure press forward.

The Sweeneys in the 1980s received an overall approval for the Treasure site, located on a hillside just west of Old Town, and nearby parcels, and the family is now seeking the permit needed before development can proceed. There has been widespread resistance, though, to the Treasure application from neighbors. Members of the Park City Planning Commission also seem wary of the project.

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In an interview this week, the mayor acknowledged that his idea in early 2009 does not seem to be practical now. He said he still would prefer the land be purchased as open space, but it does not appear that a deal is likely. Williams said the topics he broached on the sheet were "kind of a wish list."

"At this point in time, it appears, they are not interested in that discussion," Williams said.

When the sheet was written in early 2009, the mayor said, there were deep concerns about the economy and the effects of the recession on developers. Lending practices had tightened and it was not clear how devastating the recession would be on the area.

"I thought, well, maybe there’s room for that discussion given the economic climate in the country," Williams said.

He said it is unlikely City Hall could now raise the money that would be needed for a conservation purchase of the Sweeney land. It is probable that leaders would need to put a ballot measure to the voters to secure enough the funding for a purchase, and Williams said such a bond might not be "feasible."

The idea of City Hall or some conservation group purchasing the land to preserve the acreage as open space, as mentioned by the mayor in the 2009 statement, has been bantered about repeatedly. The Sweeneys, though, have indicated they are not inclined to sell in a conservation deal.

The Sweeneys see Treasure as a project that will boost the Park City economy, especially business on Main Street. They say Treasure will offer many benefits for Park City’s tourism-heavy economy, including additional slopeside accommodations, a convention center and improved skiing to Old Town. The family, meanwhile, has business interests on lower Main Street, the section of the street that would be easiest to access from Treasure.

Pat Sweeney, who represents his family, recounted that there have been idea about selling the Treasure land as open space since the 1980s, but the talks have never advanced. He said City Hall was not interested in a conservation deal on at least two occasions when the land was listed for sale.

"We really don’t have much confidence in that option," Sweeney said, adding that his side would listen to a "really attractive offer" and one that "has to be real."