Kimball expansion: iconic or a ‘big snowplow’ on Main Street? |

Kimball expansion: iconic or a ‘big snowplow’ on Main Street?

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

The Kimball Art Center at recent open houses displayed images showing the designs for the interior of a planned expansion in addition to the exterior renderings. The interior visuals have not received the same amount of attention as the exterior ones. Jay Hamburger/Park Record

A crowd at the Marsac Building on Monday tilted its support toward a controversial proposal to expand the Kimball Art Center, listing a series of reasons why City Hall should approve the project.

The opinions on Monday were split, though, with roughly two-thirds of the people speaking in favor of the expansion and the rest describing their opposition. The crowd packed the Park City Council chambers for what was the only scheduled opportunity to provide public input about the expansion in a formal City Hall setting. Three staffers from the Planning Department received the testimony.

Many people in the audience cheered as people provided their testimony. The cheers were loudest for some of the people who spoke in favor of the expansion. The crowd appeared to be a mix of Parkites and people who live in the Snyderville Basin, and many neighborhoods seemed to be represented in the City Council chambers.

Upward of 19 people provided testimony. The staffers who accepted the input, including Planning Director Tom Eddington, did not discuss the merits of the project during the event. They limited their comments to describing the procedural details of the Kimball Art Center’s proposal.

The speakers covered numerous topics during one hour of input. Some of the people who spoke in opposition of the Kimball Art Center’s proposal prefaced their statements with accolades about the role the not-for-profit organization plays in the area’s arts community.

The supporters touched on topics like the idea that the look of an expansion of a historic building does not need to match the original building and that Main Street has changed over the years. Opponents, though, countered that the expansion will not jibe with the historic streetscape.

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The Kimball Art Center has hired a renowned Danish architect to design the expansion. The design now under consideration is a new one from Bjarke Ingels Group after a more ambitious one was widely panned as something that did not fit on Main Street.

Matt Mullin, the chair of the Kimball Art Center’s board of directors, told the staffers the expansion should not mimic the original building. The design, he said, does not jeopardize the historic Kimball Art Center and will enhance Old Town and wider Park City.

"We really feel this design does a lot for town," Mullin said, noting that he appreciates the comments in support and the opposition’s statements.

Lynn Fey, a member of the board of directors of the Kimball Art Center, said a historic building should not be replicated when it is expanded with an addition as she praised the design.

"That is not unusual," she said about additions to historic buildings that have a contemporary look.

John Helton, an Old Town resident, said the project would draw attention away from what he called pseudo-historic buildings.

"It’s bold, but it’s not risky," Helton said.

Other supporters spoke about topics like the expansion making an architectural statement, that other historic buildings around the world have benefited from modern-looking expansions and the project’s potential as the transition point between upper Main Street and the lower section of the street.

"It is something that stands out. It is something that is iconic," said Buzz Strasser, a member of the Kimball Art Center’s board of directors and the chair of the board’s landmark committee.

The opponents, though, offered a series of points as well. They said the Kimball Art Center should offer a design that fits better with Park City’s history and worried that the design could set a precedent along Main Street.

Dave Hanscom said he wanted a new design from the Kimball Art Center as he spoke against the proposal.

"I think the big snowplow at the bottom of Main Street is not at all appropriate," Hanscom said.

Jim Tedford cited City Hall planning and zoning documents as he spoke in opposition. He worried about the project being a precedent and said the expansion does not fit along Main Street.

Another critic of the expansion, Lee Caruso, said a project with the designs of the expansion is perhaps better suited for a big city.

"It doesn’t fit. It’s not a place for new things," Caruso said, referring to Main Street.

The Kimball Art Center wants to expand onto the space where the art center’s plaza now sits at the intersection of Main Street and Heber Avenue. The expansion would involve a 15,000-square-foot concrete addition ranging in height from 32 feet tall to 46 feet tall. It would be connected to the existing building on both stories. The project would shift the front door to the Main Street-Heber Avenue intersection, a busier location than the Park Avenue-Heber Avenue corner where the front door is now located.

In an interview afterward, Kimball Art Center Executive Director Robin Marrouche said the feedback the organization has received through open houses and emails has been "overwhelmingly positive." She said the opposition points on Monday were not surprising.

"It’s been wonderful for people to get involved and let us know how they feel and what’s important to them," Marrouche said.

the City Hall process

The Kimball Art Center is seeking two approvals from the Planning Department that are needed for the expansion to proceed as envisioned. One deals with the designs and the other with the height.

Staffers have the ability to determine whether the designs meet City Hall’s strict Old Town guidelines. If someone wants to challenge that determination — the Kimball Art Center if the designs are not found not to meet the guidelines or the opposition if the designs are found to meet the guidelines — the appeal would be put before the Park City Historic Preservation Board.

Eddington, the planning director, has the ability to approve an exception to City Hall’s height restrictions. The underlying zoning at the site allows a building to the height of 32 feet with the planning director given the power to grant an exception allowing a building to climb to 48 feet. If the exception is granted, an opponent could appeal the decision to the Park City Planning Commission. If one is denied, the Kimball Art Center could file the appeal. The height exception is requested for what City Hall’s detailed development rules define as an architectural feature, according to the Planning Department.

Anya Grahn, the historic preservation planner at City Hall, said the two decisions could be made as early as the end of May.