Park City’s growth battles: Who won Flagstaff, Treasure, PCMR and others? (analysis)
December 26, 2018
This is the second in a three-article package looking back on an era of extraordinary growth and development in Park City. In the others, The Park Record introduces the question that will be answered in this piece — Who, precisely, won some of the greatest development battles over the last two decades? — and examines the impact a future Winter Olympics could have on developments at Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort.
Park City leaders since the mid-1990s have made high-profile development decisions across the community, many of them becoming contentious for reasons like their overall size, the location, the height of the buildings and the traffic the projects attract.
Sometimes it is a neighborhood that rallies against a project while other times it is City Hall itself. It is exceedingly difficult to claim victory or defeat in a development dispute as some may bemoan the growth while others may see economic opportunities.
Some of the most significant growth decisions since the mid-1990s have included:
The redevelopment of the Park City Mountain Resort base area
When: 1997 approval followed by the construction of Marriott's MountainSide and the Legacy Lodge
Where: the PCMR base area and the base area parking lots
Who won: a draw between the resort and the community
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Why: The redevelopment of the PCMR base area under former owner Powdr Corp. was seen as critical to ensuring the resort, and the wider Park City community, remained competitive as investment continued across the ski industry. There was only limited pushback during the discussions even as PCMR proposed what would become one of the largest buildings in Park City, Marriott's MountainSide. The Park City Planning Commission spent time on standard issues like the height of the buildings, the layout and traffic flow.
The community generally saw the PCMR base area as a place where development is appropriate, the key reason why there was only scattered resistance to the overall project. PCMR, meanwhile, updated the base area in the pre-2002 Winter Olympic era and, with the project, positioned itself for the post-Olympic growth that followed the Games.
But the 1990s-era approval also contemplates significant development on what are now the PCMR parking lots. The resort's current owner, Vail Resorts, is considering options and may sell parcels to third-party developers.
It is difficult to forecast how a development proposal involving the parking lots will jibe with the vision of the 1990s leadership of PCMR as well as the municipal officials who helped craft the approval at that time. The location at the base of a resort will likely assuage at least some of the concerns of Parkites and the Planning Commissioners who will eventually decide the matter.
When: 1995 settlement agreement between City Hall and the developer followed by 1998 vote to annex portions of the project into the Park City limits
Where: stretching from outside Snow Park Lodge to U.S. 40 and tied to the Deer Valley Resort slopes
Who won: the developer
Why: Deer Crest was a peculiarity in Park City development debates from the start. The developer saw the project, located in Wasatch County, over a ridge from Snow Park Lodge, as a major expansion of Deer Valley that would feature a large hotel and ski mansions. Park City leaders, though, were worried from the outset since, at that point, it appeared Wasatch County would process the project through its own planning and zoning rules rather than Park City's codes. The Park City rules were seen as more tightly regulating growth. City Hall officials were also leery of the prospects of the development opening a road corridor between U.S. 40 and lower Deer Valley, a scenario that would have, effectively, created a third year-round route into and out of Park City.
The developer and City Hall ultimately reached a settlement agreement. The settlement called for City Hall to annex portions of the project with certain development rights essentially agreed upon. There was consternation within the municipal ranks even after the settlement as some remained unhappy with the details of the agreement.
The St. Regis Deer Valley, one of the largest buildings in Park City, was eventually erected as part of Deer Crest. The development also involves mansions on the slopes. The sides addressed the concerns about a U.S. 40-lower Deer Valley road corridor by agreeing that Deer Crest would be a gated community, something that provided the development a touch of exclusivity that City Hall otherwise typically resists.
Flagstaff, now known as Empire Pass
When: 1999 approval, but years of talks prior to the 'Yea' vote and, as of late 2018, nearly two decades of occasional discussions about a broad range of Empire Pass-related issues since the vote
Where: the upper elevations of Empire Canyon on the slopes of Deer Valley Resort as well as Bonanza Flat in Wasatch County. The discussions also involved to a lesser degree smaller parcels strewn through the Park City area
Who won: the developer, United Park City Mines, and the successors to that firm
Why: The project, which was known as Flagstaff in the 1990s and now goes by Empire Pass, remains the watershed moment in the modern era of Park City development disputes. It marked a dividing line between the early decades of the city's ski industry, when many saw development as desirable in a burgeoning resort community, and the last 20 years, a time when the need for growth has been hotly disputed.
After a fierce debate that drew attention across Park City, in Summit County, in Wasatch County and in the Salt Lake Valley, Park City approved the project and annexed the Empire Pass land from unincorporated Summit County. The leaders of the County Courthouse preferred Park City process the project since the land was so close to the municipal borders.
The approval was vast with development envisioned in what were described at the time as 'pods.' The project encompassed land stretching from just south of Old Town to the upper reaches of Empire Canyon.
The developer's side later engaged City Hall in another high-stakes debate, this one about tinkering with the 1990s approval, as it attempted to locate an exclusive hotel in Empire Pass. Park City leaders in 2007 agreed to allow the hotel, which was developed as the Montage Deer Valley, in exchange for a list of public benefits, such as the setting aside of land as open space through an instrument known as a conservation easement.
Another piece of the Flagstaff approval is also critical to understanding just how much of a milestone the debate was even 20 years later, and why, through the lens of today, the approval tilts toward the developer. The Park City leaders of the late 1990s as part of the Empire Pass discussions secured a cap on development on Bonanza Flat, a swath of land in Wasatch County that was also under the ownership of United Park City Mines. It appeared during an earlier moment in the talks, though, the Bonanza Flat land would be protected from development outright in one of the crucial points of the Empire Pass negotiations.
City Hall years later acquired Bonanza Flat in a $38 million conservation agreement, after lenders brought a foreclosure case against a successor landowner. The developer's side, then, built the exclusive Empire Pass and later coupled that project with the $38 million generated from the sale of Bonanza Flat to City Hall.
When: over the course of approximately a decade during a post-2002 Winter Olympic era of growth
Where: a series of large parcels of land at Quinn's Junction off the intersection of U.S. 40 and S.R. 248
Who won: the community
Why: Major development at Quinn's Junction was seen as likely for years prior to the various landowners taking steps toward projects. City Hall leaders, though, saw an opportunity to guide the entryway growth at Quinn's Junction toward the benefit of the public after watching what many at the time considered to be the haphazard nature of development along the S.R. 224 route into Park City.
Park City made a series of maneuvers at Quinn's Junction that resulted in the development of public facilities like the Park City Ice Arena and the Park City Sports Complex as well as a housing project called Park City Heights that includes a significant number of workforce or otherwise affordable units. Other major projects developed at Quinn's Junction include the Park City Hospital, U.S. Ski & Snowboard's Center of Excellence training center and the National Ability Center campus.
City Hall essentially designed Quinn's Junction to be a location for municipal, not-for-profit or institutional uses in addition to the restricted housing. The development of Quinn's Junction advanced many of the leaders' goals for the community.
But the growth at Quinn's Junction also included what became the Utah Film Studios, a project that was hotly contested as opponents worried about a large facility of that nature along the entryway. Park City officials were split as they approved annexing the land for the project as well as the development itself.
The development of the controversial Utah Film Studios, though, did not ultimately overshadow the community satisfaction with the other projects at Quinn's Junction that are seen as benefiting the public.
When: over the course of more than 10 years starting in the middle of the last decade with discussions expected to continue into 2019 and possibly beyond
Where: the Bonanza Park district, centered along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard
Who won: a draw
Why: The Bonanza Park developers, led by Mark J. Fischer, acquired a patchwork of properties along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard, a part of Park City that was long seen as underutilized. The developers wanted to transform the district, once referred to as North of Main, or NoMa, into a hip collection of residences, boutiques and restaurants.
An original partnership ended in litigation, but Fischer continued to pursue the vision for Bonanza Park with a new partner, billionaire John Paul DeJoria.
The Bonanza Park idea involved razing some of the existing buildings, designing a new street network and then developing commercial spaces, offices and residences in a project that was intended to be attractive to a diverse group of Parkites. Park City considered a newfangled set of zoning rules as the Bonanza Park designs were crafted.
Critics, though, seized on issues like the height of the proposed buildings, the traffic Bonanza Park would generate and the overall designs.
City Hall after years of talks about a development negotiated two acquisitions of Bonanza Park land that, together, represent the core of the district. The two acquisitions were pegged at a combined approximately $25.5 million. Park City leaders envision an arts and cultural district anchored by the Kimball Art Center and the Utah offices of the Sundance Institute on part of the land with some sort of restricted housing on other portions of the acreage.
In the case of Bonanza Park, both sides seem pleased with the outcome. The developers recovered an unknown percentage of their investment through the two deals with City Hall, while the municipal government secured land it needs to pursue priorities like housing in addition to the ground for the two arts and cultural institutions. The municipal government, meanwhile, is expected to recoup some of the acquisition cost through the sale of the housing and arrangements with the Kimball Art Center and Sundance Institute.
When: over the course of more than 30 years starting in the 1980s and running through Election Day in 2018
Where: a hillside overlooking Old Town along the route of the Town Lift as well as several nearby parcels
Who won: a draw
Why: The Treasure development dispute stretched through more than 30 years, an extraordinary length of time even in a community where extended growth controversies regularly wear on landowners, Park City officials and interested neighbors.
The Sweeney family in the 1980s secured an overall City Hall approval for development on the Treasure land off streets like Lowell Avenue and Empire Avenue as well as nearby parcels. Smaller pieces of the development approval were built over the years with limited resistance. The bulk of the 1980s-era rights were attached to the hillside, though, and the developers needed to secure another crucial vote before a project could proceed.
The Treasure partnership, consisting of the Sweeney family and a firm called Park City II, LLC, spent more than a decade in difficult talks with a series of Park City Planning Commission rosters as critics rallied around issues like the traffic Treasure would generate on Old Town streets and the height of the proposed buildings.
City Hall and the partnership eventually negotiated a $64 million agreement calling for the municipal government to acquire the Treasure land for conservation purposes. Voters on Election Day in 2018 approved a ballot measure funding most of the acquisition price, and the deal is expected to be finalized in 2019.
The municipal government and the voters of Park City see the pending acquisition, which will be by a wide margin the most expensive in the history of City Hall's open space program, as a landmark moment after the ballot measure was approved convincingly. They see the dispute as having ended in favor of the community. They say Park City through the deal avoids years of construction impacts and, ultimately, a large development in a highly visible location.
The Treasure side, though, can also claim a successful outcome. Negotiators for City Hall and the Treasure partnership crafted the $64 million price tag based on the coveted location on the Park City Mountain Resort slopes and just off Main Street. The Sweeney family and Park City II, LLC will each be expected to realize eight-digit rewards without the risks associated with a major development, such as an economic downturn during the construction or sales phases.
The Sweeney family also has enjoyed additional gains over the years generated from other pieces of ground involved in the 1980s-era overall approval, such as the locations where the Town Lift Plaza commercial space and the plaza's garage were built.