Mile Post 2020: ‘One of the Defining Moments’
Coronavirus pandemic seems certain to change Park City’s trajectory — but how?
What do the next six months hold for Park City? How about the next five years? Or the next 10?
The only thing certain is that Parkites in 2019, or even early 2020, would have answered much differently than Parkites in October. The community finds itself seven months into the worst public health crisis in a century, a global pandemic that has upended Park City alongside almost every other place in the United States. While it’s impossible to know with any surety what the long-term ramifications of the pandemic will be for Park City, it’s clear the coronavirus is the kind of singular event that will change the community’s trajectory in one way or another.
Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, for one, called it a “reality check.” Myles Rademan, a longtime Parkite and former City Hall staffer who has been a keen observer of changes in the Wasatch Back over the years, likened the pandemic’s transformative potential to the oft-mentioned fire of 1898 that destroyed most of Main Street and the surrounding areas: “It would be hard not to see this as one of the defining moments that everyone will be talking about for the next 100 years.”
Perhaps the most pressing issue facing Park City is what toll the pandemic will ultimately take on the local economy. There is worry heading into the ski season that the economic convulsions experienced in the spring and summer are only the beginning, and there are questions about whether there will be enough visitors this winter to prop up the already-fragile economy.
City Hall, for one, sees reason for concern, projecting a steep decline in sales tax revenues in the coming months, portending trouble for local businesses and workers who have already faced seven months of struggle.
To Beerman, the pandemic has increased the urgency to become less reliant on ski tourism, which ebbs and flows with economic, snow and, recently, health conditions. Acknowledging that Park City is never likely to become a manufacturing hub or a place dotted with call centers, he said officials must continue searching for ways to diversify the economy, such as through the arts and culture district City Hall is pursuing in Bonanza Park.
“We’ve learned as a community we can’t always count on times of great abundance,” he said.
In the near-term, one factor that may provide a safety net is the volume of people who have moved to the area in recent months seeking a refuge from the pandemic in a place that offers abundant recreation — both second home owners who’ve decided to make Park City their primary residence and those buying property here for the first time.
Beerman said they could help make up for a shortage of ski vacationers this winter and contribute positively to the economy going forward by being reliable skiers, shoppers and diners.
“That influx of those different groups has bolstered our economy and filled in a lot of the gaps left out by tourism,” he said. “It’s not a complete replacement, but I think it’s helped.”
Rademan characterized the phenomenon of people moving to Park City during the pandemic as the town going from “boom to Zoom,” a reference to the popular video- meeting platform. He added that the influx of new Parkites — many of them wealthy — will come with long-term ripple effects, such as exacerbating the affordable housing shortage and hastening the transformation of Park City proper into a large “neighborhood” in the broader Wasatch Back as opposed to a distinct community.
The latter, he said, makes it vital for the area’s local governments to partner as they confront the issues facing the region. Otherwise, the growth has the potential to be- come overwhelming and deteriorate the quality of life in the community — the very thing that draws so many people here in the first place.
“You can only hope you can work with these communities to put in the kind of amenities that people are coming here for so that they don’t try to overcrowd the amenities we’ve worked so hard to make — the trails, the open space,” he said. “Because not everyone can get on them.”
Beerman understands that additional growth will present challenges but said the pandemic has also highlighted ways Park City might be able to rein in some of the impacts. He pointed to Park City’s expansive special events calendar as one example. The bustle on Main Street over the summer de- spite the dearth of events showed him that City Hall should take a closer look at which events it allows each year with the aim of easing the disruptions on the community.
“We’ve always felt that, economically, we’re very dependent on events,” he said. “And I think we’ve learned events are certainly an economic boost, and I don’t see us permanently going away from those, but maybe we’ll be a little more choosy about who we bring in, realizing that our town has matured to a place where we may not need that momentum anymore.”
For the mayor, the coronavirus has also led to another realization. It’s becoming more critical every day, he said, for global, national and state leaders to prepare for another looming existential crisis: climate change, which scientists say could one day reduce the amount of snowfall western re- sort destinations receive, an outcome that would be devastating for Park City.
“I really hope we look at this and say, ‘This is an example of what happens when we ignore these threats we all know are coming and we don’t properly prepare and we don’t take them seriously,” he said. “It can shut us down, so we better be looking at what else is out there in our future.”
For now, looking into the future is all Parkites can do.
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