Park City mayor retires after tensions, triumphs
December 29, 2017
Jack Thomas in early January will retire as the mayor of Park City perhaps lacking the activist streak of his predecessor in the office, Dana Williams, or the exuberance of his incoming successor, Andy Beerman.
Thomas, who did not seek re-election in November, will leave office after one term that pushed the community forward in dramatic ways nonetheless. His efforts stretched from high-altitude land to low-income families, pressing a wide-ranging agenda at the Marsac Building that both built on the work of previous administrations and prepared the community for future ones.
"I'm not flamboyant. I wasn't a strong speaker. I've gotten better," Thomas said in an interview as he prepared to leave office. "I'm a contemplative, holistic thinker."
Thomas, 72 and a Park Meadows resident who has lived in Park City for 25 years, unexpectedly rose to power after a career as an architect. He was a member of the Park City Planning Commission. Thomas won the 2013 mayoral campaign after having never served in elected office. He bested Beerman, who was a City Councilor at the time, in a result that surprised many.
Thomas was sworn into office in early 2014 amid Park City's strengthening emergence from the recession and as community tensions continued about a lawsuit that ultimately led to the sale of Park City Mountain Resort to Vail Resorts and the subsequent merger of PCMR and Canyons Resort into a single property.
The economic expansion and the merger of the resorts became two of the crucial issues of the Thomas administration. Although both of them held great financial promise for many who live in Park City, the booming economy and the resort merger also were seen as important factors as affordability became more difficult for others and roads became further clogged. There was also a sense of a changing vibe in Park City during the Thomas years, illustrated through concerns about the corporatization of Park City, advances in real estate prices and the tragic overdose deaths of two teens.
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"I learned that this community is evolving and changing. But even as new people arrive, they want to be part of it," Thomas said.
Thomas, at many times quietly, sought to ensure Park City's longtime tight-knit tendencies were not lost amid the economic expansion. The mayor was perhaps the leading figure in discussions that eventually led the municipal government to embrace the ideals of social equity, something brought on by concerns about an upper class that is thriving in Park City alongside the struggling middle and lower classes. City Hall toward the end of his administration launched formal talks about the broad topic of social equity with the discussions expected to continue after he leaves office. Thomas said it is a "complete community concept."
"That disparity in lifestyle, I think I've always been aware of it," Thomas said, describing that some Parkites work multiple jobs and there are families living in crowded quarters. "It's been more dramatic than I thought."
Some of the successes during the Thomas administration stand with the most notable of the skiing era. It was during his term that City Hall acquired Bonanza Flat, long-desired acreage in Wasatch County downhill from Guardsman Pass.
The 1,350-acre Bonanza Flat deal is seen as the greatest accomplishment of Park City's renowned open space program. Park City voters passed a $25 million ballot measure that funded most of the $38 million price tag. A fundraising effort brought in the remainder.
City Hall during the Thomas administration reached an agreement, which was not finalized by the end of his term, to acquire land in Bonanza Park to create an arts and cultural district anchored by the Kimball Art Center and the Sundance Institute. The municipal government also negotiated a deal to acquire a 50 percent stake in the Treasure land, something that could later lead to a breakthrough in the hotly disputed development talks should voters approve the funding necessary for the agreement.
"What I wanted to do, frankly, is help show the possibilities in all those cases," Thomas said about Bonanza Flat, the arts and cultural district and Treasure.
He also is pleased with City Hall's environmental efforts, noting officials attended a training program led by former Vice President and green activist Al Gore. The City Hall program has shown clean-burning energies can succeed, he said.
Thomas, meanwhile, was the City Hall figure who needed to lead the relationship-building efforts with Vail Resorts as it acquired PCMR with the settlement of a lawsuit that spanned two mayoral administrations. The relationship was strained at times, particularly during the controversy about the Colorado firm's efforts to trademark the name "Park City" as it applies to a mountain resort. Vail Resorts eventually abandoned the efforts after outcry in the community and opposition from the municipal government.
Thomas said Vail Resorts is in the process of integrating itself into the community. He explained the company appears to take care of employees and is committed to providing funding to not-for-profit organizations. Thomas said he does not hear as many negative comments about Vail Resorts as he did two years ago.
"People don't come to me and complain about Vail," he said.
The mayor said he will miss working with municipal staffers, but he does not plan to "haunt the hallways of City Hall." He plans to travel in the U.S. in 2018.
"Easy Rider in an Airstream," Thomas said.