Critics of Sundance village on Main Street yell ‘Cut’
The festival setup impacted sales at some businesses
Jason Morgan at just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday looked around Old Town Cellars on lower Main Street and saw a largely empty place even as the Sundance Film Festival continued across Park City.
Morgan, who is the director of operations at Old Town Cellars, was one of the business figures who was concerned about sales as the festival approached. Sundance in 2017 for the first time set up a Festival Village on lower Main Street, requiring an extensive closure of the street. Sundance has filled the Festival Village with attractions and sponsor setups, and there have been crowds seen there at certain points, but some businesses along lower Main Street are displeased with arrangement.
“There’s two people in here right now. Our fears were validated,” Morgan said, adding that sales were average during the opening three days of the festival, typically the busiest. “We certainly were not doing what we expected with Sundance here.”
Old Town Cellars, a winery and wine bar, launched last spring, making this year’s Sundance the first that it has been open. Morgan said sales during Sundance have been similar to those earlier in the ski season. He said the first few days of Sundance were solid at Old Town Cellars, but they dipped as the festival continued.
Sales were even worse in the three days before Sundance opened, as lower Main Street was closed to traffic and parking for the setup, he said, describing numbers that were “down significantly.”
“We hate to say it, but we were right,” Morgan said.
Sundance organizers and Park City leaders in late 2016 reached an agreement to locate the Festival Village on lower Main Street. Sundance has for years sought City Hall-controlled spaces for a variety of purposes, including screening rooms and off-screen activities. The Festival Village provides space for official Sundance sponsors to promote their products.
The Park City Council approved the Festival Village as part of an overall package of Sundance-related items. Park City officials agreed with the Sundance leadership that the Festival Village would enliven Main Street throughout the event. It is in contrast to many of the temporary corporate setups along Main Street during Sundance that are dismantled after the first weekend. There is also a Sundance setup known as Festival Base Camp, located on Swede Alley, and the nearby Cinetransformer venue.
There was concern on lower Main Street after the City Council approval was publicized, however. Some of the worry extended beyond the Sundance closure itself since lower Main Street will also be closed to traffic after the festival as well for a concert marking a World Cup ski competition. The Festival Village is scheduled to close on Saturday.
The Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses on Main Street or on nearby streets, has also monitored the Festival Village. Michael Barille, the executive director, acknowledged that someone can visit the Festival Village without realizing there are businesses steps away.
“In general, it seems like it’s drawing some people down there. That part is good,” Barille also said.
If Sundance seeks a similar arrangement for the 2018 festival, Barille said, festival organizers could consider posting temporary signs promoting the presence of the businesses. The Historic Park City Alliance could also work with Sundance on a public-relations campaign advertising that the businesses are open. He said discussions between the parties could also begin earlier than they did as the 2017 festival neared. Barille said questions remain about the length of the closure and the size of its footprint.
Sundance organizers said on Thursday there have not been decisions made about a Festival Village in 2018. Sundance typically reviews the mechanics of the festival annually as it readies an operational plan for the next year.
“The feedback from the festival community has been positive since the Festival Village opened. People seem to be really responding the access to music and art that the Festival Village provides, and to the energy of the festival that comes with it,” Sarah Pearce, the managing director of Sundance, said in a prepared statement in response to an inquiry from The Park Record.
Atticus Coffee & Tea House was another concerned business that is located on lower Main Street. Randy Winzeler, the co-owner with his wife, said sales have been about even during Sundance as compared to the past year. Sales were down a little more than 10 percent during the setup, though, he said.
Winzeler said there are few customers walking through lower Main Street after the Festival Village closes each night. He said there has not been as many concerts as he anticipated and one of the Festival Village tents has not been busy.
“It didn’t seem to attract any extra traffic at all,” he said, adding, “It just didn’t have any activation. It was just slow.”
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The Park City Police Department last week received complaints about noise that usually indicate the community was busy. In one of the cases, the Police Department was called to Empire Avenue, where someone reported the music was loud and there were “people yelling like they are having fun.”