Main Street talk touches on chain stores, lease rates and vacancies
Park City officials, Main Street figures and others on Thursday held a wide-ranging discussion about the popular shopping, dining and entertainment strip, delving into topics like the business makeup of the street and indicating there will be additional talks later.
Mayor Jack Thomas and the Park City Council touched on numerous Main Street issues, including lease rates, the number of locally owned businesses compared to those that are a part of a chain and the number of building vacancies on the street. The elected officials were not scheduled to make decisions on Thursday, but the discussion was an important one as City Hall considers whether it should take steps that could eventually have an influence on Main Street’s future.
The discussion about building vacancies appeared to be especially notable. According to a City Hall report drafted in anticipation of the meeting, 8.9 percent of the linear street frontage along Main Street is vacant in 2015. It is the highest vacancy percentage of the three years studied in the report. The figure was just .6 percent in 2006 and 6.8 percent in 2002, according to the research.
The report, written by Jonathan Weidenhamer, who manages City Hall’s economic development efforts, posed a series of questions for the elected officials and reviewed earlier meetings involving City Hall, business owners and property owners. Weidenhamer broaches the possibility of City Hall having a widened role in the issue of Main Street vacancies.
The report outlines the possibility of updating City Hall business-licensing requirements for places that are open on a temporary basis only. Such a change could "incentivize keeping buildings rented for the majority of the year," the report says. That sort of change would be seen as targeting property owners who enter into lucrative rental agreements during the Sundance Film Festival but let the building remain vacant the rest of the year.
Other topics the Weidenhamer report discusses include the possibility of a City Hall planning and zoning tool that could lead to more lodging on Main Street, the possibility of the municipal government somehow subsidizing businesses that are local and a move that would have an effect on the size of retailers.
City Hall has been in talks with Main Street businesses and building owners or figures in the commercial real estate industry. The elected officials on Thursday engaged in a broad discussion with the interested parties. It seemed that future discussions, though, will feature more detailed talks about the possibility of an expanded role on Main Street by the municipal government.
Main Street figures covered a spectrum of issues in their comments to the mayor and City Council. Jan Wilking, a longtime figure in the Park City commercial real estate industry, said lease rates are increasing significantly, creating problems for locally owned businesses on Main Street. Hans Fuegi, another longtime business figure who has interests on Main Street, said it will be difficult to control rents. Fuegi added he would support somehow limiting what he described as "formula stores." Michael Kaplan, who has an academic background in business and once owned a Main Street nightclub, mentioned that other places prohibit kitchens in lodging units as a means to encourage people to eat at restaurants.
The leader of the Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents the interests of businesses on Main Street or just off the street, said there is concern about the building vacancies as well as the possibility of stores that are part of chains opening on Main Street. Alison Butz, who is the executive director of the organization, worried about the possibility of Main Street someday appearing to be a mall and how that would change the way the street acts.
The mayor and members of the City Council also offered an assortment of comments. The elected officials would be expected to be more pinpointed in their ideas at later meetings about the topic since it seems likely that they will be discussing detailed proposals.
City Councilor Cindy Matsumoto said she wants City Hall to have a role in addressing vacancies on Main Street, but she was not sure what sort of action the municipal government should take. Dick Peek, another City Councilor, said there is a risk of what he described as a festival-based economy as he addressed temporary rentals like those during Sundance. Perhaps, Peek said, a link could be established between business licenses and year-round tenancies. City Councilor Tim Henney wondered how lease rates could be counteracted on Main Street, saying the situation is "pure, free market capitalism." Henney said there is a role for City Hall. Andy Beerman, a City Councilor who with his wife is the principal owner and manager of the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street, said the vacancies on the street need to be addressed. Liza Simpson, a City Councilor who has long worked on Main Street, questioned whether City Hall should attempt to influence the market at the expense of the private sector. Simpson added that there could possibly be a municipal role on Swede Alley, though.
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Park City leaders next week plan to showcase a City Hall workforce or otherwise restricted housing development in Old Town, highlighting one of what is expected to be a series of significant municipal projects in coming years.