Park City forever changed — the town’s top 5 stories from 2017
Park City ends 2017 having witnessed 12 months of conflict, progress and, undoubtedly, change. It was clear as 2017 started it would be one of the crucial years of the skiing era. The mayor’s office was on the ballot and a major development battle appeared to be headed to a finale. But few would have been prepared for the largest demonstration in Park City’s history or the fall of a long-established transportation firm. The Park Record’s Top 5 Park City news items of 2017 follow.
5. ‘Love trumps hate’
It seemed almost certain even before Election Day 2016 that the Sundance Film Festival crowds in January of 2017 would mark the inauguration of whoever won the White House since the next president would be sworn into office during the festival.
With Donald Trump’s victory, angst grew among the political left that has long been attracted to Sundance. Inauguration day, it quickly appeared, would be decidedly different in Park City than the celebratory atmosphere eight years earlier as Barack Obama was sworn into office, also during Sundance. It was initially unclear, though, what sort of gathering would be planned.
By mid-January, just before Sundance opened, organizers promoting a range of issues important to the political left secured a City Hall permit to hold a demonstration on Main Street on the first Saturday of Sundance, typically one of the busiest days of the festival. They dubbed it the Women’s March on Main, aligning the event with numerous Women’s Marches across the country that day.
Unlike other demonstrations over the years during Sundance focused on a spectrum of issues, attendance at the Women’s March on Main did not falter. A giant crowd later estimated to range between 7,000 and 9,000 people descended Main Street in what was by a wide margin the largest demonstration in Park City’s modern history.
The people chanted “love trumps hate” and “love, not hate, makes America great” and eventually gathered for a rally on Swede Alley. Celebrities and Sundance-goers from outside of Utah joined a large contingent of Park City-area residents for the event. The event was not organized as an anti-Trump march, but many in the crowd were displeased the businessman was the president.
“It’s not only about women’s rights, but it’s about human rights,” Doug Clyde, a Democratic member of the Summit County Council, said during an interview at the event. “The threat today is more insidious than it was during Jim Crow.”
4. A rough ride
Even amid the busiest ski season in Utah’s history, All Resort Group, Inc., a large Park City transportation company, was on a road toward financial disaster.
All Resort Group, Inc., the parent organization of dozens of taxi and shuttle firms, shocked the community in late April as it filed for bankruptcy protection with the hopes of reorganizing. The firm at the time had estimated assets of between $10,000,001 and $50 million, the same range listed in the estimated liabilities column of the bankruptcy filing.
An All Resort Group, Inc. executive, Gordon Cummins, said at the time business was strong, noting the first three months of the year were the best quarter in approximately four years. But the bankruptcy petition hung over the company through the summer and into the fall. All Resort Group, Inc. succumbed to the financial issues in mid-September after an investment group withdrew its intent for an acquisition.
It was the most stunning business collapse in Park City since the recession wreaked havoc on the lodging industry. Several hundred All Resort Group, Inc. employees were impacted, and the company suggested they file for unemployment benefits. The emotional toll was evident as the breadth of the bankruptcy and shutdown became widely known.
Mayor Jack Thomas, during a Park City Council meeting in September, assured an emotional former ranking All Resort Group, Inc. staffer that leaders were “hurting with you” since they understood what the closure meant.
“It’s my integrity and my promise to the community … is part of why I was doing so well in the business. And I feel as though I’ve made promises and I’ve let people down, due to, of course, no direct choice of my own,” Alicia Petersen Vernon, who had been the director of business development, told the elected officials.
All Resort Group, Inc. was effectively dismantled in October during an auction authorized by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge assigned to the case. The auction, held in All Resort Group, Inc.’s former offices along Kearns Boulevard, drew interest from the transportation industry. An Arizona firm called The Driver Provider spent $100,000 at the auction to acquire various segments of All Resort Group, Inc.
“It’s unprecedented in my experience. The sheer scope of their operation was astonishing. We saw the auction as a way to acquire a ready-made transportation business that would accelerate our assimilation into the market exponentially,” Jason Kaplan, the owner of The Driver Provider, said. “All Resort’s demise left an enormous void in a key local industry. We were fortunate to be able to acquire what we did without having to go through the organic process.”
3. Treasured topic
The Treasure developers in the 1980s likely would never have predicted then that they would have such an impact on Park City years later.
Treasure won an overall approval for a project on a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift that decade. It has been more than 10 years since discussions launched at City Hall about the Treasure proposal itself, which represents the bulk of the development rights secured in the 1980s.
But 2017 was an especially tense year in the talks about what is the most controversial development proposal in Park City since the 1990s-era discussions about the project ultimately built as Empire Pass.
The Planning Commission spent meeting after meeting debating Treasure issues like traffic and the size of the building as frustration built on the developer’s side. The Treasure partnership saw itself as having provided much of the material needed for the Planning Commission to render a decision, but the panel seemed to say otherwise.
In March, the Treasure side, in dramatic fashion, indicated it would invoke a state law that allows a developer to force a planning commission to cast a vote. Treasure never did so, but the statement seemed to increase the tension nonetheless.
“That’s just a merry-go-round. If we want to move on, we have to request a vote,” Pat Sweeney, a Treasure representative, said in March, adding, “I don’t think they’ll ever be ready for a vote. … We’re ready for a vote.”
As the discussions continued in grinding fashion, Park City leaders suddenly and surprisingly reached an agreement that could eventually prove to be a breakthrough. City Hall and the Treasure side behind closed doors negotiated a deal that calls for the municipal government to acquire 50 percent of the development rights attached to the Treasure land for $30 million. The rest of the project would be reworked under the agreement. The deal, though, hinges on a $24 million ballot measure expected to be put to voters in November of 2018, ensuring that Treasure will continue to be a critical item for Park City over the next year.
2. A new Mr. Mayor
The Park City election in 2017 was anticipated to be a tense one as the year started, even before the candidates announced their intentions, since the mayor’s office was on the ballot.
It was not until the spring, though, that the political season started in earnest. Jack Thomas, the first-term incumbent mayor, in May announced he would not seek re-election, creating an opening in Park City’s highest office.
The mayoral field formed quickly. Roger Armstrong, a member of the Summit County Council, started his campaign even before Thomas publicized his intention to retire from public office. Park City Councilor Andy Beerman, who lost the mayoral contest to Thomas four years earlier, and former three-term Mayor Dana Williams also joined what was seen as an impressive mayoral field.
Williams trounced the other two in a primary, advancing to the Election Day in November against second-place finisher Beerman. The fall campaign stressed well-worn Park City issues such as growth, traffic and work force or otherwise affordable housing. Williams largely relied on support from rank-and-file Parkites while Beerman amassed a group of powerful backers, particularly from government ranks.
Voters opted for Beerman, agreeing with him that Park City needs a new leader instead of a former one. Beerman pledged to continue City Hall’s progress on issues like transportation, housing and environmentalism. The municipal government in the early months of Beerman’s term is also expected to stress the ideal of social equity as leaders craft a strategy meant to ensure City Hall serves the entire populace of Park City.
“It’s exciting more than anything. I felt relief and gratitude,” Beerman said after the results were announced.
Voters on Election Day also chose two members of the Park City Council. Incumbent Tim Henney won a second term while Steve Joyce, a member of the Park City Planning Commission, ascended to the City Council with his close second-place finish.
The three are scheduled to take the oaths of office in early January.
The election was seen as an endorsement of City Hall’s work plan. An incumbent City Councilor – Beerman – was put into the mayor’s office while another incumbent City Councilor, Henney, was the top vote-getter in that campaign. As a Planning Commissioner, meanwhile, Joyce also has strong ties to the municipal government.
1. A Flat-out success
Bonanza Flat, a high-altitude tract of land in Wasatch County downhill from Guardsman Pass, had for years been sought-after acreage by developers and conservationists alike.
Developers saw the 1,350 acres as prime land for a golf-and-ski project, while advocates for open space envisioned Bonanza Flat perhaps someday preserved for recreation, wildlife and its scenic value. There was little movement on Bonanza Flat for years, until a foreclosure case was brought against the landowner, the Talisker corporate family. The lenders took control of Bonanza Flat, perhaps creating an opportunity after so many years of community concern about the prospects of major development on the land.
Park City leaders saw a possibility as early as 2016, putting a $25 million ballot measure to voters in November that could be used to finance a deal for the land should it become available. By early in 2017, two months after the ballot measure passed, City Hall negotiated a $38 million deal for Bonanza Flat. Supporters saw the deal as a way to block development in a sensitive location as well as a means to protect habitat for moose, elk, deer and other species. It was also seen as an important step in protecting the watershed.
Deal backers quickly mobilized an unprecedented fundraising campaign to secure the remaining $13 million needed to finalize the acquisition. It was an extraordinary effort as government bodies, not-for-profit organizations, businesses and private individuals assisted. The gap was closed, and the acquisition, the grandest of City Hall’s conservation deals, was finalized in June.
Park City’s work, though, continues as the end of the year arrives. Officials must craft a plan for the future of Bonanza Flat, taking into consideration a range of desires for the land. Park City must craft what is known as a conservation easement that will outline the restrictions on Bonanza Flat. Those discussions could eventually dwell on controversial topics like snowmobiling and hunting. A nonscientific City Hall survey taken after the acquisition showed people see hiking and trail running as appropriate on Bonanza Flat but riding motorized vehicles as inappropriate.
“I have never seen so many different community partners come together to raise such a significant amount of money in such a short amount of time,” Wendy Fisher, the executive director of the not-for-profit Utah Open Lands, said about the regional efforts to finalize the deal, describing Bonanza Flat as the “heart of the Wasatch.”
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.