Park City in 2021 marked by lots of development, mayoral vote and supercharged economic comeback
Difficult talks about arts district and contaminated soils also made the 12 months memorable in community
There was widespread community uncertainty as Park City entered 2021 with the novel coronavirus pandemic continuing to be the overriding issue.
The sickness influenced much of the discussion in Park City during the year, as the local economy mounted an extraordinary comeback. But other topics — a City Hall election, development talks at the mountain resorts and an unexpected controversy centered on silver mining-era soils — also made the year stand out.
The Park Record’s Top 5 news stories in Park City in 2021:
5. An unfinished work
Park City ends 2021 with an unfinished work on a high-profile piece of land.
City Hall owns ground stretching inward from one of the corners of the intersection of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive and holds plans to develop an arts and culture district.
The project, envisioned with the Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute as the anchors, is an especially bold one for the municipal government. Leaders spent time in 2021 in discussions about topics like the budget and the details of a project, but they were unable to finalize the plans.
Proponents see an arts district as something that would solidify Park City as a destination for cultural tourism and help diversify the local economy. But others question whether the project, estimated to cost in the range of $65 million, is a worthwhile use of municipal monies. The district would include workforce or otherwise restricted affordable housing alongside the Sundance and Kimball Art Center locations. Other possibilities include event space, exhibition space, studios and performance space.
By the spring, the debate had intensified, leading to an especially impassioned meeting that drew critics and supporters. The Park City Council received approximately 70 minutes of testimony from more than 25 speakers during the meeting. Supporters spoke about the expected wide-ranging community benefits while the critics worried about topics like the financials.
One of the speakers, artist Anna Moore, said that something like the arts district, with housing included in the plans, could keep her living in Park City.
“Honestly, without these projects like the arts district that value creative work, I honestly find little to no reason to continue living in Park City,” she said
Another speaker, Dean Berrett, a longtime businessman with commercial real estate holdings close to the land, said arts and culture helps a community, but he questioned whether the plan is too broad.
“The concept of arts and culture has broadened into arts and culture and transportation and transit and workforce housing and affordable housing and economic diversity and social equity on approximately a 5-acre parcel of land,” he said.
Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council could not reach an agreement as the fall election season arrived. A new crop of elected officials are expected to restart talks about the arts district sometime in 2022, possibly as early as the first quarter of the year, meaning they will be the ones to put the finishing touches on the project.
4. Soils controversy unearthed
An unexpected controversy was unearthed in Park City in the spring, essentially pitting the community against City Hall in a rare instance of Parkites with near unanimity condemning a project pursued by the municipal government.
Park City was founded as a silver-mining camp in the 19th century and the industry drove the economy through the middle of the 20th century. But contaminated soils are one of the byproducts of the industry, and Park City for years has struggled with the legacy of the mining era.
City Hall wants a long-term solution to the storage of contaminated soils. As leaders considered options, officials outlined a concept that called for the construction of a facility along the S.R. 248 entryway where the contaminated soils could be kept, known as a repository.
There appeared to be little public interest in the talks for months, until the topic suddenly drew attention in the spring. Parkites from across the political spectrum and from various neighborhoods were livid with the concept, confronting City Hall in a series of gatherings over several months. There were worries about the environmental and health impacts even as officials countered that a repository would include safety features.
One of the most visible critics was Roger Armstrong, a member of the Summit County Council and a Park City resident, suggesting early in the dispute that “the City Council has not been fully informed about all of the very significant health issues, economic issues, and potential liability issues of this initiative.” Armstrong later verbally sparred with Park City officials during an informational meeting.
The controversy lingered into the City Hall election season, with the incumbent candidates and the challengers needing to address the controversy with the fate of the repository still undecided amid the early politicking. The elected officials in August formally opted against proceeding with the repository.
At the end of the year, City Hall remains undecided about the future of the contaminated soils, meaning the issue could again draw attention in coming months as leaders consider options.
“We need to honor the fact the community doesn’t want us to move on this. And so I think for the moment we need to put this on hold. What that doesn’t resolve is the fact that we still haven’t solved any of our challenges and still have a very large pile of soils … that we’re going to have to figure out how to address,” Mayor Andy Beerman said about the controversy in August.
3. Lots of development
A Provo developer known as PEG Companies long before the start of 2021 had reached an agreement with Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts to acquire the parking lots at the base area for a major project.
And the firm by then had already spent months in discussions with the Park City Planning Commission about the 10-acre proposal, making what seemed to be only limited progress. It was not clear early in the year how the talks would unfold. Perhaps PEG Companies and the Planning Commission were closer to reaching an agreement than it seemed. But as the months wore on through 2021, it became clear there were deep-rooted issues.
A previous owner of PCMR in the 1990s secured an overall development approval that includes the land in question. PEG Companies based its proposal — residences, a hotel, retailers, restaurants and parking and transportation infrastructure — on the earlier approval, but the opposition through 2021 continued to express numerous concerns over the course of a series of Planning Commission meetings.
The PEG Companies side maintains the proposal jibes with the earlier approval and the plans address key issues like traffic, parking and the design. The opponents, though, remain unconvinced, saying the proposal lacks the measures necessary to ensure a project will fit with the surrounding community.
Testimony at Planning Commission meetings and written input to City Hall has tilted heavily against the project. Critics have questioned the accuracy of computer-generated images used by the PEG Companies side, challenged the Park City Planning Department’s work as the application is processed and, in one especially strongly worded message, labeled the proposal an “obscene raping.” In November, as a Planning Commission meeting about the project was postponed, another critic, Deb Rentfrow, said in a message that “our town is getting jerked around.”
“Now, they cancel four hours prior. It’s absolutely unacceptable and an indication of things to come if we approve their proposal. This should be a clear indication of how they respect teamwork and our City employee’s, servant’s and resident’s time,” she said.
As the year nears an end, it seems PEG Companies will be in front of the Planning Commission at least through early 2022.
Deer Valley Resort, meanwhile, like PCMR, holds longstanding development rights. The rights are attached to the land where the Snow Park Lodge parking lots are located, and Deer Valley in the spring indicated there had been initial talks about a project. The talks with the Planning Commission about a hotel, residences, retail space, dining locations and entertainment, as well as parking and transportation infrastructure, remained in the early stages by the end of the year.
2. ‘Love where you live to throw the bums out’
Park City Mayor Andy Beerman by the spring had helped lead the community through the economic turmoil wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic, guiding an extraordinary comeback from the depths of spring of 2020.
And prior to the spread of the sickness, it was the Beerman administration that was able to reach a landmark deal to protect the Treasure hillside overlooking Old Town from development, ending decades of uncertainty on the land.
But as the City Hall election approached, there was a sense of discontentment in the community. The real estate and rental markets had tightened further than they were even before the pandemic, traffic was again annoying to Parkites and social justice controversies continued from 2020 into 2021.
Beerman late in the spring declared he would seek a second term as the mayor. Nann Worel, a member of the Park City Council, shortly afterward launched her campaign for the city’s top political office, pitting two top-tier figures against each other. A newcomer to Park City politics, David Dobkin, later started a long shot bid for the mayor’s office.
There was regular campaign talk about traditional Park City election issues like growth and traffic, but government process also became a pivotal plank in the contest. Beerman generally saw the City Hall processes as ample while Worel questioned whether there was enough public involvement. There was especially a split regarding the process that led to the creation of polarizing social justice murals on Main Street in 2020 and the talks regarding the concept to build a facility to store soils with mining-era contaminants.
Worel, the first-place finisher in the primary, maintained her political strength through the fall election season. She won in a landslide on Election Day and is poised to be sworn into office in early January.
“I had a strong village around me that believed in my message,” Worel said after preliminary results showed she held a commanding lead.
There were also two seats on the City Council on the ballot in 2021, drawing an eclectic field of candidates bringing both traditional and unconventional backgrounds. Only one incumbent member of the City Council, Tim Henney, sought reelection. As was the case in the mayoral election, voters opted for change in the City Council contest. Challengers Tana Toly and Jeremy Rubell captured the two City Council seats on the ballot.
“Love where you live to throw the bums out,” Henney said in explaining the Election Day results.
1. Black swan landed, then flew away
Park City appeared to be on the precipice of economic disaster at the outset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with the tourism industry shuttered and unemployment topping a stupefying 20% in Summit County.
There were hints later that year that the tourism industry, which drives the Park City economy, was rising as people began to venture out from the lockdowns. But it was in 2021 when the community mounted an extraordinary economic comeback that started in earnest in midwinter and then continued through the rest of the year.
There was widespread concern in January as the normally lucrative Sundance Film Festival canceled all in-person events, but even that month was not as terrible as expected for businesses. The months that followed showed the resiliency of tourism as Park City drew large crowds through much of the year.
Even with the coronavirus raging in the nation, visitors arrived in large numbers. People saw Park City’s recreation offerings as an attractive option with activities like skiing and snowboarding keeping them outside, where there was a sense of safety from the sickness.
In the weeks after Sundance closed, it was clear that the ski season was strengthening. There were crowds on the slopes and on Main Street, cash registers were ringing and traffic was worsening. The state ski industry, with Park City being a major player, set a record for skier-days in the 2020-2021 winter.
Park City ultimately set an all-time high mark for sales taxes in a fiscal year, an extraordinary accomplishment amid the challenges.
“While taxes are only one measure of community health and well-being, this type of success is a bold expression of a resilient, hard-working, and thriving community,” City Hall staffers wrote in September.
The unemployment rate in Summit County, another key economic measure, in April dropped to the lowest level since the fall of 2019, prior to the economic upheaval.
Real estate soared in 2021. The median price of a house in Park City hit $2.9 million in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, the Park City Board of Realtors reported.
The robust economic numbers seemed to continue month after month. Special events like the Park Silly Sunday Market and the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, summertime-tourism boosters, returned after coronavirus-forced cancellations the year before. People crowded onto Main Street, onto the trails and into the resorts.
One of the business figures who was especially worried at the outset of the economic turmoil, Flanagan’s on Main owner John Kenworthy, in March described the comeback.
“The Black Swan landed here for sure. Thankfully, she only had a brief stop here and then moved on to the big cities where she squatted,” Kenworthy said in a statement to The Park Record, explaining that the Park City area did not suffer economically like elsewhere. “We were lucky. We went from early 2020 record high sales in Old Town to zero — in a blink. Nobody knew how we were going to land this pandemic.”
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