Analysis: As a Louisville official is tapped as top planner, could “Keep Park City Weird” become a battle cry?
There are similar independent impulses in Ohio River, Wasatch Mountain cities
Many Parkites see the community as having lost the funk of the early skiing days of the 1970s as real estate prices soared starting in the 1990s, making it difficult for rank-and-file wage earners and small, independent stores that are regarded as adding to the fabric of the community.
Can a word like “weird” be the right term to describe Park City after the decades of growth, the arrival of numerous chain businesses and the graying of the community, someone could wonder.
“Keep Austin Weird” is a battle cry in the Texas capital while “Keep Portland Weird” is a movement in Oregon’s largest city.
Another city that promotes a “Weird” branding is Louisville, Kentucky. “Keep Louisville Weird,” people and businesses say in a community known for thoroughbreds, college basketball, baseball bats and bourbon whiskey.
The idealism of the Ohio River city suddenly is notable in Park City as City Hall taps a high-level government official from Louisville to become the next planning director at the Marsac Building. It is a highly influential post within the municipal ranks that holds a key role in both the day-to-day discussions and long-range talks about growth and development.
Park City on Tuesday said Gretchen Milliken has been hired as the planning director, succeeding the retiring Bruce Erickson. She was hired from the government of Louisville, where she held the post of director of advanced planning and sustainability. Her start date is Feb. 1.
Milliken will arrive at the Park City offices at a crucial moment for growth. The Park City Planning Commission as she arrives will be amid the long-running talks regarding a major development proposal at Park City Mountain Resort while City Hall itself is preparing to develop an arts and culture district along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard that will be processed through the department Milliken will lead. It seems likely Deer Valley Resort in coming years will approach City Hall regarding a long-considered large project at Snow Park while the Planning Department could receive a backlog of less ambitious development applications once the spread of the novel coronavirus is contained and the economic impacts of the sickness subside.
Large projects like the one slated for PCMR or the arts and culture district receive widespread publicity, but the Planning Department also is responsible for regulating a broad range of other sorts of projects like individual houses in Old Town as well as holding important duties in crafting City Hall’s detailed development rules and the broad vision for community growth.
The concept of Keep Louisville Weird, as it does in the other places that use “Weird” in their branding, attempts to advance an independent streak, particularly in the business community, that is seen as desirable to people who live there and visitors. Locally owned small businesses, as an example, are especially prominent in a district in Louisville known as The Highlands.
There has long been a similar impulse in Park City, in some ways brought by people who have moved to the community over the past 40-plus years from places like New York and California. Park City to them is a distinct place in a state they consider to be homogeneous.
The challenges to that sense of independence, though, have mounted over the years. As residential and commercial real estate prices soared, many people and businesses in the creative class that oftentimes are drawn to “Weird”-branded cities found affordability difficult in Park City. That has, over time, led to an older, wealthier population and chain businesses appearing in spaces that once were occupied by local ones. The consolidation in the ski industry increased the corporate nature of the community as Vail Resorts acquired Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort came under the ownership of Alterra Mountain Company. Many have thrived financially, but others bemoan the changes to Park City.
The arts and culture district the Milliken-led Planning Department is expected to process in coming months is envisioned as something that could be a significant step in nurturing an expanded creative class.
That, supporters of the district say, could enliven Park City and help diversify an economy that is reliant on the ski industry and related sectors like restaurant, lodging and construction. The Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute are intended to be the anchors, and the project is designed to have space for businesses that align with the arts and culture nature of the district.
But, will Park City ever be able to, or even want to, brand itself as “Weird?”
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Thanks to COVID-19 cutting into visitation numbers, Park City’s seasonal workforce is sufficient. In any other winter, “the hiring situation would be dire.”