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Art fest’s future mulled

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

City Hall and the Kimball Art Center, though the talks appear in the early stages, are considering the future of the annual August art festival and whether the two sides can reach an accord to ensure the festival remains on Main Street.

The street has been the site of the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, through its various names and corporate sponsors, since it originated in 1970.

A deal would likely commit the Kimball, which hosts the festival, to agree to the Main Street location for years while City Hall would probably provide financial inducements, perhaps through an arrangement such as waiving fees.

The current agreement between the government and the Kimball regarding the arts festival covers two years, with 2006 being the final year, according to Alison Butz, who directs special events for City Hall. She acknowledged in an interview recently that the government prefers that a long-term accord, perhaps covering 10 years, be reached with the Kimball.

"We just feel that Main Street makes the arts festival what it is," Butz said. "It makes it a unique festival. It’s on a historic street."

At the Kimball, the executive director, Pam Crowe-Weisberg, agrees with Butz’s assessment. She said in an interview that she assumes City Hall and her organization will negotiate a long-term deal, saying that she "can only be very hopeful."

"I would love to see it stay on Main Street. It’s got a history here," Crowe-Weisberg said.

The art festival draws between 30,000 and 40,000 people each year to Main Street, some who are in the art market but most who want to spend the day immersed in the festivities. Even with competition from a softball tournament and other festivals, it remains the summer’s signature event.

But especially in the last decade there have been talks about whether the festival belongs on Main Street, with people suggesting that it is too big for the narrow road and some merchants complaining that, even with the crowds, business dips because the visitors are on Main Street to look at art, not visit the shops.

In the past, the Kimball has at least contemplated pulling the festival off Main Street, perhaps relocating it to the parking lot of a mountain resort, but the organizers and City Hall have each time reached an agreement for the Main Street location. In a recent report to the Park City Council, Butz said a long-term deal could be considered by the elected officials early in the summer.

Recent years have seen the Kimball tinker with the layout of the artist booths in an effort to make Main Street businesses more visible to the crowds, making some of the merchants more agreeable to the festival.

Mayor Dana Williams wants the art festival to stay on Main Street but said that the Kimball must ensure that it meets the festival’s budget. The local government has pledged financial assistance, $10,000 in 2006 plus $44,000 in donated work, according to the mayor, but Williams said he wants the Kimball to be weaned from the public funding. He said he does not want long-term City Hall subsidies earmarked for the festival.

"I think it’s important, partially because of its tradition," Williams said about the festival’s Main Street location, adding, "I think it’s a Park City event and think it should stay here."

He said Parkites and visitors expect the art festival to be staged on Main Street.

The festival does not bring in lots of tax revenue, Butz said, estimating that, in 2003, an additional $22,000 in sales taxes were collected by City Hall during the festival.

Crowe-Weisberg said she would not scout other locations before the Kimball and City Hall consider a long-term deal. An art-fest organizer, however, put out feelers to Redstone, the Kimball Junction shopping district, according to Scott Verhaaren, a partner in Redstone developer Boyer Co.

It is unclear when the contact with Boyer was initiated but Verhaaren said the Kimball sought a deal that did not interest the company, calling the request, "more than we’re willing to do" and a "substantial commitment" financially. He also said that it would be difficult for the firm to close off the space that would be necessary for the art festival.

"We don’t have any interest of doing that," Verhaaren said, adding that the discussion was brief and that the Kimball contacted his firm.

Crowe-Weisberg acknowledged the Kimball approached Redstone but said that contact occurred at least six months ago. She said she wanted to consider various options before committing to a location on a long-term basis.

On Main Street, Ken Davis, the leader of the merchants association, said merchants prefer that the art festival stay on Main Street but conceded that the event is not a "must have."

He said business on Main Street is usually mixed during the festival and said merchants preferred the setup in 2005. That put artist booths in the middle of Main Street instead of on the curbs and allowed the festival to open on Friday night, instead of the traditional Saturday opening.

"We’d rather have it here, have activity on the street," Davis said.

Davis said, however, that the merchants would do OK whether the art fest is held on the street or at another locale. Lots of people would be visiting the Park City area for the festival and some would visit Main Street anyway, he said.

"I don’t think it would matter all that much," Davis said about the art festival moving. "Some people could argue it would be beneficial to the street."


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