Park City reaches end of 2020, a year of stunning havoc
Economic uncertainty, social justice efforts, Olympic bid marked the 12 months
Park City at the start of 2020 seemed poised to make progress on longstanding issues like the economy and traffic, continuing the years of work of City Hall and the wider community.
It was clear by the middle of March, though, the agenda for 2020 would change radically. The spread of the novel coronavirus made the year unlike any other in Park City’s history. But even with the sickness impacting all aspects of life, other items rose to prominence. Park City joined the nation in calling for social justice and steps were taken toward hosting another Winter Olympics someday.
The Top 5 news stories in Park City in 2020 follow:
5. Pegged for development
By the middle of winter, it was expected there would be movement on plans for a major development at Park City Mountain Resort. The overall rights to build on the resort’s vast parking lots were secured in the 1990s, and Vail Resorts, the PCMR owner since 2014, had already reached an agreement to sell the lots to Provo-based developer PEG Companies. The developer was left to pursue another City Hall approval needed before a project could commence.
PEG Companies in February submitted a development application involving residences, a hotel, retailers and restaurants. Large garages would be built as the resort’s existing lots would be lost to the development. The firm sees the project as a needed upgrade at a top-tier mountain resort.
“We have created a mix of creative residential, lodging, traffic and parking solutions to enhance the experience for everyone who enjoys this wonderful place to live and play,” Robert Schmidt, the chief development officer of PEG Companies, said in a prepared statement at the time of the application.
The submittal propelled PEG Companies into a development dispute more than 20 years after the rights to build at the location were granted. People who live or have places on streets close to the land, as well as others, spent much of 2020 in opposition to the plans. They are worried about issues like the design and the traffic the project is expected to attract, rallying into a group known as Responsible Resort Area Development Coalition.
“It doesn’t look like a world-class ski town to me. And with Park City trying to get the Olympics again, I think Park City should be looking at creating something that is absolutely world class. And I’m not sure PEG is the company that can even do it, to be quite honest,” Rich Wyman, a project critic, said at a Park City Planning Commission meeting in the summer, adding, “I would suggest that PEG perhaps brings in some people with experience on the world stage.”
The talks have been difficult. The Planning Commission by the end of the year did not appear close to ready to cast a vote, meaning the discussions will likely extend well into 2021 before a decision is made.
4. Pedestrians only, please
With the novel coronavirus spreading in the spring, Park City officials and Main Street leaders were attempting to craft plans to support the shopping, dining and entertainment strip in the summer. The thinking was the outside setting of Main Street could be attractive at a time when so many were worried about being inside.
The Historic Park City Alliance, which represents businesses in the Main Street core, approached City Hall with a concept of closing the street to traffic on certain days, primarily Sundays, as a key step in the economic recovery. The idea offered room for social distancing and it allowed some of the businesses to have a presence outside. The Park City Council approved the concept, and the pedestrian days launched in June.
It was the most significant closure of Main Street to traffic since a pedestrian-only celebration zone during the 2002 Winter Olympics. The crowds in 2020 did not match those of the Games, but the pedestrian days quickly proved to be popular.
People crisscrossed the street, stopping in stores and dining al fresco. The scene exuded summertime in Park City after a difficult stretch for the community. Some of the businesses on Main Street had just recently reopened from the spring coronavirus-induced shutdowns, and the pedestrian days were welcomed.
On the first pedestrian day, there were reports of solid sales and an air of excitement with crowds returning to Main Street. There was initial concern about the low percentage of people in the pedestrian zone wearing masks to help curb the spread of the disease, but masks became more prevalent as the summer continued.
“People are out and looking and in our store, so that’s better than the alternative,” Brook Freeman, the manager of Park City Mercantile on Main Street, said on the first of the pedestrian days.
By the fall, the pedestrian days had been deemed a success. Sales in the summer were solid enough that some businesses may have survived for the more lucrative ski season.
“For some, I heard it’s been able to get them there, to feel comfortable making it to December,” Alison Kuhlow, the executive director of the Historic Park City Alliance, said in September about sales in the summer.
3. Olympic committee rings
February of 2030 seems to be the distant future with Park City of today confronting so many difficult issues.
But preparing for the possibility of a Winter Olympics that month is a task that takes years. It is unclear when the International Olympic Committee will award the Games of 2030. Salt Lake City, though, appears to be a prime contender for the event. The Park City area would play a key role in any Games, hosting many of the competitions as well as much of the celebration.
Although much is not known about timelines for a decision by the IOC, the group readying an Olympic bid involving Salt Lake City and the surrounding region took important steps in 2020 that are especially noteworthy for Park City and surrounding Summit County.
In February, as the state was marking the 18th anniversary of the Winter Olympics in 2002, the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games was seated. The roster immediately gave the Park City area influence, a recognition of the outsized role the community would play in a Games.
Most importantly, Colin Hilton, who is the president and CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, was named one of two vice chairs of the board of directors of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games while Andy Beerman, the mayor of Park City, was selected to serve on the executive committee.
“Our future Games will provide us an opportunity to align visionary goals of our state and local communities, and I look forward to joining together, rallying around a common cause and seeing what new successes we can achieve when we set our minds to it,” Hilton said at the time of the appointments.
Months went by with little publicity, but in October the leadership of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games met to review the work that had quietly been undertaken. As the year ends, it is not clear whether the Games of 2030 or 2034 will be pursued. It is clear, though, the effects of the spread of the novel coronavirus will influence the discussions.
2. Message in a mural
Parkites joined the rest of the nation in outrage with the police killing of George Floyd late in the spring, leading to protests in Park City starting shortly after the death.
Within days, upward of 300 people peacefully gathered at the Park City High School football field in solidarity with the others in the U.S. The crowd kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, marking the amount of time a police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck. Some brought “Black Lives Matter” or “I can’t breathe” signs to the demonstration. The demonstrators chanted “No justice. No peace. No racist police.”
There were other gatherings in support of social justice in Park City, but it was on Main Street, over the Fourth of July weekend, when the fireworks started. With little prior publicity, Park City officials provided the Main Street asphalt to artists to create social justice murals. One of the artists, Aljay Fuimaono of Vineyard, led a team that created a giant mural, stretching the length of a football field, with the words “Black Lives Matter” in 14-foot-tall lettering.
The murals, particularly the one by Fuimaono, immediately became a flashpoint in the community. Supporters of the artworks praised the message and backed City Hall’s decision to provide the asphalt as a canvas. Detractors, though, were livid, questioning whether the municipal government should have allowed a polarizing work and wondering whether it was worthwhile to spend approximately $15,000 of taxpayer money on the murals.
Shortly after its creation, a vandal or vandals targeted the Black Lives Matter mural and some of the others. The vandalism involved covering the word “Black” with gray paint as well as covering a clenched fist symbol standing for the letter “I” in the word “Lives.” The artist returned to repair the mural and added the text of a poem he wrote based on his personal story.
The Park City Police Department investigated the vandalism but made limited progress. The agency developed a person of interest before ultimately clearing the Davis County man, leaving the act a cold case.
“Painting over the Main Street murals last night was an act of petty vandalism and now becomes part of Park City’s history. We will use this event to further our community dialogue about social inequities,” Mayor Andy Beerman said in denouncing the act.
1. A sickened economy
The 2019-2020 ski season in Park City was solid as March started, and the community was preparing for a busy final weeks of the winter. The coronavirus was spreading elsewhere, but at the moment there did not appear to be a significant local threat.
By the middle of March, the unimaginable occurred. Park City suffered one of the first clusters of the sickness in the state, forcing health restrictions, the early end to the ski season and the temporary closure of scores of businesses. There was an initial jolt to the local economy as unemployment soared to a numbing 20.4% in Summit County.
The tourism industry that drives the Park City economy essentially was shuttered for a time. The economic hits continued in the following months. There was a string of event cancellations, including the Park Silly Sunday Market, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, the Tour of Utah bicycling race and the Independence Day celebrations.
Over the course of the year, City Hall made dire projections regarding sales-tax receipts, Main Street leadership warned businesses could close permanently and there was talk of a so-called black swan, a term that in economics refers to an unexpected, havoc-causing event like the coronavirus.
Park City, however, in the summer and fall mounted a nascent economic comeback with many businesses reporting upside surprises. It was apparent by then that people wanted to travel after the spring shutdowns. Park City, with plentiful activities outside, was seen as an attractive destination. There were crowds on Main Street, the trails were busy and there was a noticeable increase in traffic.
The ski season, though, is substantially more important to the Park City economy than the summer. Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort started to plan for the 2020-2021 ski season after the early end to the previous one, realizing they would need to take numerous steps to address the spread of the sickness. Each of them crafted plans for the first ski season in the era of social distancing. PCMR, notably, adopted a reservation system while Deer Valley further limited the number of skiers allowed on the slopes at any one time.
Sundance Film Festival organizers, meanwhile, announced plans for a greatly scaled back event in early 2021.
It will be months, if not longer, before it is clear how hard of a hit the Park City economy took as a result of the sickness.
“This is just one more gut punch, if you will, unfortunately,” the executive director of the Park City Area Restaurant Association, Ginger Wicks, said after Sundance announced the festival plans.
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Park City leaders are scheduled to receive a briefing from the Summit County health director about the state of the novel coronavirus. Phil Bondurant’s appearance at a Park City Council meeting is slated less than two months before the scheduled opening of the ski season.