Park City funding for arts district questioned amid coronavirus pandemic
'Maybe this is not the right time,’ former city councilor says
Alex Butwinski this week described his reaction in 2017 to City Hall’s announcement it would acquire land to develop an arts and culture district as “over the moon.”
An arts district was “exactly what we needed,” he said in an interview about his opinion of the plans at that time, noting a district would help diversify the Park City economy from one that is heavily dependent on the ski industry.
Three years later, amid the continued spread of the novel coronavirus and the economic uncertainty it has caused, Butwinski has raised questions about City Hall’s plans. Butwinski, a former member of the Park City Council who left office in early 2014, testified at a recent City Council meeting centered on the future of the district, envisioned to be anchored by the Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute.
He told the elected officials he has supported the efforts since the start but there are concerns at this point regarding the cost, with the City Hall portion estimated at $88.4 million. The municipal government would recoup some of the monies by selling land to the Kimball Art Center and Sundance. It would also generate revenue through leasing workforce or otherwise affordable housing that is also included in the project.
“Maybe this is not the right time,” Butwinski said at the recent meeting.
He said officials are “pinning your hopes on a market recovery that we all hope is going to happen” as he spoke about a funding option that is under discussion, called the transient-room tax, that is charged on lodging. The tax is highly dependent on tourism numbers.
Butwinski also told the mayor and City Council he is concerned about “Kimball and Sundance actually stepping up to pay their share of this. It’s a big chunk of money.” Both of the organizations suffered layoffs during the pandemic.
“This is a tough one. … The numbers, for me, are really scary,” he said.
Butwinski in an interview expressed concern about the costs of the district, saying they have “gone through the ceiling.”
“We’re going to rob the cabinet of every single dollar that’s in there to do this” and then hope the tourism industry rebounds, adding, “That’s a lot of ifs and maybes for me.”
One option Butwinski described is to move forward with the part of the project that involves City Hall itself. Officials would advance on the municipal housing that is envisioned in the district and consider possibilities for a transit hub. The Kimball Art Center and Sundance portions of the development would be put “on hold” under the scenario until City Hall and the two organizations sign purchase and sale agreements, Butwinski said. He said he wants the Kimball Art Center and Sundance to ultimately be the two anchors of the project, as is now contemplated. Butwinski’s comments to the elected officials were made amid two important meetings regarding the district that covered a wide range of financial matters.
The mayor and City Council are expected to return to the talks in January. The elected officials that month will likely consider a resolution regarding funding sources for the district. The concept of asking voters to approve a ballot measure involving a property-tax increase to raise funds for the project was broached during the recent talks, but it was not clear whether the concept would be further considered.
City Hall acquired the 5.25 acres, located along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard, in a $19.5 million deal. The municipal government is preparing to demolish the buildings currently on the land in preparation for the development. City Hall is also readying to engage the Park City Planning Commission in discussions about the project, which requires an approval from the panel.
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The Park City Police Department last week and early this week received several reports of parties, a common complaint to the agency during busy times of the ski season. The cases did not appear to be serious, but they seem to show an uptick in activity in the community.