Parkites ‘absolutely dumbfounded’ by price of arts district, city councilor says
Elected official relays concerns about dollar figures involved in project
A member of the Park City Council on Thursday indicated he has received criticism about the price tag of an arts and culture district City Hall is pursuing, outlining that people are stunned with the cost of what would be an especially ambitious municipal project.
City Councilor Steve Joyce made the comments during another in a series of lengthy meetings about the district in recent months. City Hall wants to develop the district on municipal land stretching inward from the southwest corner of the intersection of Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard.
The district is envisioned as having the Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute as the co-anchors. The project also includes space for artists, housing and transportation infrastructure. The City Hall portion of the project is estimated at $88.4 million. The talks about the district started long before the economic turmoil caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the current round of discussions is unfolding amid the continued uncertainty.
The comments by Joyce on Thursday were especially direct as he talked about the financials. In an especially pointed statement, he described the input he has received regarding the numbers.
“They’re just dumbfounded. They’re absolutely dumbfounded,” Joyce said, describing that people are not discussing with him the housing aspects of the project or the pedestrian upgrades that would be undertaken.
Some of Joyce’s comments centered on the funding mechanism. He argued that a City Hall revenue stream linked to the lodging industry, known as a transient-room tax, would not be enough to fund the project after leaders initially said otherwise. He said Parkites supported such a funding strategy since transient-room taxes are typically paid by visitors rather than residents.
“People bought into the idea that, hell, if the tourists are going to pay for our art and culture district, ‘Sweet, you know, this is great.’ And that is, quite frankly, just a load of hooey,” Joyce said.
He also said the total price has become concerning to some.
“I want to be careful about the kind of, ‘Hey, you know, the community’s behind it.’ Right now I’m hearing from people that say, you know, ‘$100 million for the art and culture district. Are you kidding me?’” Joyce said.
The city councilor, meanwhile, briefly addressed a concept broached in a December meeting regarding the possibility of City Hall asking voters to approve a ballot measure to raise the monies. That idea has not been heavily discussed and officials currently are not anticipating a ballot measure. The concept, though, drew attention at the time. A ballot measure would essentially ask voters to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds, sometimes called GO bonds, that would be repaid via a property-tax increase. Joyce predicted voters would reject a ballot measure.
“If you put this up for a GO bond, I bet you 10 to 1 it would fail. You go ask for $100 million for this thing, or $50 million for this thing. Wouldn’t happen. Absolutely wouldn’t happen,” he said.
Joyce said people would like an arts and culture district in Park City, but the project is “unbelievably expensive.” He said City Hall can afford the project and added that he is concerned about the amount of debt that would need to be repaid over the course of nearly 20 years.
Mayor Andy Beerman refuted some of the comments regarding the funding. He said officials have outlined that the transient-room tax monies would be put toward the acquisition of the land, the programming of the district and the construction of the plazas. The mayor said it was known from the start that a mix of other funds would be used for the housing and transportation elements. Beerman also acknowledged there is public concern about the overall cost.
Park City leaders see a district as something that would further solidify the community as an arts and culture destination. It would also move forward the efforts to diversify the local economy from one that is heavily reliant on the ski industry, supporters say.
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Mother Nature has not delivered any early gifts to Park City skiers and snowboarders. As December nears, the area is suffering through an especially dry spell of weather.