Park City leaders receive impassioned, but deeply divided, testimony about arts district plans
Some see project as advancing the community while others question finances
Park City leaders on Wednesday night received more than an hour of divergent testimony about City Hall’s plans to develop an arts and culture district, hearing from a broad range of speakers — a veritable artist’s palette — as important decisions near regarding the especially ambitious municipal project.
The debate about the district intensified in recent months amid concerns about financing as the economic impacts of the spread of the novel coronavirus continue. Much of the formal discussion during that time, though, involved Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council with a limited amount of public input. The meeting on Wednesday, in contrast, was designed to take comments from the public.
The meeting, held electronically as officials continue to combat the spread of the sickness, appeared to draw an especially large audience to a City Council meeting. The mayor and City Council received approximately 70 minutes of testimony from more than 25 speakers. The testimony was split between supporters of the district plans and those with questions about the concept. The supporters spoke of what they anticipate will be wide-ranging community benefits should the project proceed. The critics worried about issues like the financial numbers.
It was among the most impassioned City Council hearings in some time. The wide range of people speaking also gave the hearing more urgency than many others before the City Council in recent months.
The concept calls for a district to be co-anchored by the Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute. There would be studio space and an artist-in-residence program, among other arts-oriented spaces. The project also would involve workforce or otherwise affordable housing and transportation and parking infrastructure. The land stretches inward from the intersection of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive. City Hall acquired the land in a $19.5 million deal with the Bonanza Park partnership.
One of the speakers, Anna Moore, who is an artist, expressed her support for the project, thanking officials for considering the art community with the development proposal. She said something like the arts district, with the 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. I see my friends in other places putting roots down. And I would love to put roots down here, but it’s just not a financial option for me,” she said. “I just feel like all of the options that were there whenever I arrived here get smaller and smaller with more third homes. I’ve been kicked out of multiple rentals that sold out from underneath me.”
Moore, meanwhile, said she is “afraid” of the future of Park City if projects like the arts district are not pursued. She described a “kind of a whitewashed Disneyland for billionaires with more fur shops than gas stations.”
“It just is not a place that I want to live if it continues at this kind of uber-capitalist, pro-real estate, anti-real person that it’s becoming,” Moore said.
Another speaker, Dean Berrett, a Park City resident since the 1970s and a longtime businessman with commercial real estate holdings close to the land acquired by City Hall, said arts and culture helps a community, but he questioned whether the plan is too broad.
“To the extent that the current proposal under consideration by you and our community stakeholders is primarily focused on the concept of arts and culture I support those efforts,” he said. “However, in my opinion, in the current form, 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.”
Berrett said the monies that City Hall would spend on the project would put budgetary constraints on the municipal government for years. He highlighted the numerous questions about the project, including the ultimate roles of the Kimball Art Center and Sundance in the district. He said the two, both not-for-profit organizations, are expected to acquire land within the district to develop their own buildings, but that would take, according to Berrett, “an enormous capital commitment in the best of times let alone the current timeframe with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty.”
“Staff reports, council discussions and community input have highlighted an overwhelming sense of uncertainty dealing with a project of this scope. No greater uncertainty exists than with the two proposed anchor occupants,” he said.
Randy Barton, a longtime figure in the Park City arts scene who currently is the theatre manager at the Egyptian Theatre, told the elected officials monies that went into recreation, open-space acquisitions, trails and transit over the years were worthwhile. The district is an opportunity to put arts and culture at the same level as the others, he said.
“It’ll come back to you tenfold. Arts and culture is an economic engine, not only currently but for the future. It will reap benefits,” Barton said.
Another speaker with questions about the project, Future Park City activist Angela Moschetta, mentioned an increasing budget and the demolition of buildings that forced tenants to relocate. She wanted an explanation of the traffic and transit plans, sought details about the finances and budget and said the project needs a “firm commitment” from the two anchors. She wanted “proof of the thriving arts economy and expert forecasting that investment in such will yield community ROI,” using an acronym for the term return on investment.
Moschetta described the project as an “incomplete, ill-planned and potentially mislabeled arts and culture district, and I say this all as a supporter of arts and culture and someone who ran a public art project in New York City for a few years.”
She said she begged of the elected officials to “not turn arts and culture into a misidentified priority that you slap a label on, throw some capital at, walk away from and call good.”
City Hall estimates the municipal portion of the project will cost $88.4 million. The $19.5 million acquisition price is in addition to the estimate. Officials want to recoup some of the costs by selling land to the Kimball Art Center and Sundance as well as generating monies through collecting rent on the residences to offset the maintenance and operations costs.
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