Sundance has new space, but what happens after closing credits?
Fest secures ex-sports store amid concerns about year-round activity
August 4, 2017
The Sundance Film Festival on Thursday secured an approval to operate a new theater in a vacant building that once housed a sporting-goods store, but there were Park City Council concerns about the space remaining empty after the festival's closing credits.
The City Council unanimously approved a package of alterations to the logistics of the festival, something that is typically done on an annual basis as Sundance organizers tinker with details in anticipation of the 11-day event in January. The addition of the space where a Sports Authority store previously operated is the key change to the 2018 edition of Sundance.
The festival plans to put a 500-seat screening room in part of the space and some of the cutting-edge New Frontier programming in the lower level of the building. Other New Frontier offerings will be put at the nearby Kimball Art Center. Sundance envisions another hotbed of festival activities when coupling the new locations with the longtime screening rooms at Holiday Village Cinema and the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, both nearby.
Sundance organizers are negotiating a five-year lease on the space with the hopes of finalizing the deal by the end of August. It would be a year-round lease, Sundance said, leading to questions from the City Council about whether the space would be dark outside of the festival run itself. There have been concerns about buildings without year-round tenants opening under lucrative temporary rentals during Sundance, particularly along Main Street.
Several of the elected officials mentioned the worries. Sundance leaders who appeared at the Marsac Building on Thursday attempted to address the concerns, but they were unable to provide detailed plans for year-round activities. Betsy Wallace, the managing director of the Sundance Institute, acknowledged the organization does not have long-range plans for the space. She said there are restrictions on operating a year-round movie theater in the space, apparently since there is another movie house at Holiday Village.
Still, though, the City Councilors saw the Sundance blueprints for the screening room and the other festival activities planned there as workable. Andy Beerman, a City Councilor, said the space has been underutilized and could remain empty for years given the environment for retailers nowadays. Tim Henney, another member of the City Council, said City Hall would hold no authority regarding opening times if a business was moving into the space.
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"The private sector could do something much worse there," Henney said.
The City Council held a short hearing prior to the vote, listening to testimony that included a statement from Steve Joyce, a member of the Park City Planning Commission who is campaigning for a City Council seat in this year's City Hall election. Joyce told the elected officials he is disappointed the space will be dark most of the year and said parking issues at Holiday Village need to be addressed.
"It's a zoo for 10 days," Joyce said.
Another speaker, Bryan Markkanen, said he wants safeguards against noise from the festival venue and suggested, perhaps, the Kimball Art Center could be tapped to ensure the space has activities scheduled the rest of the year.
Sundance has long searched for places in the Park City area that can be temporarily turned into screening rooms, leasing space in places like the Park City Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center gymnasium and Temple Har Shalom. Expanding the lineup of theaters puts more of the prized festival tickets in circulation. The 500-seat screening room would rank No. 3 by capacity of the Park City-area venues, trailing only the Eccles Center and the Municipal Athletic & Recreation Center.
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