Mile Post: City envisions a masterpiece
In the middle of 2017, Park City leaders, it seemed, had devised a plan that would solve growth issues that by then had perplexed City Hall, a major landowner and two leading arts organizations.
Jack Thomas was the mayor of Park City at the time, and he wanted to settle the future of a swath of land known as Bonanza Park. He also sought to address the long-term status of the Kimball Art Center and the Utah headquarters of the Sundance Institute.
In a bold move that summer, Thomas, flanked by officials from the Kimball Art Center and Sundance, announced City Hall had reached a $19.5 million agreement to acquire the Bonanza Park land, located along Bonanza Drive and Kearns Boulevard. The deal ended a private landowner’s long-disputed plan for a major residential and commercial project stretching inward from the intersection, and it launched City Hall itself into the role of pursuing an especially ambitious development.
The intention announced that day was for City Hall to develop an arts and culture district with the Kimball Art Center and the Sundance offices as the co-anchors. The district, the supporters said, would move Park City toward becoming a destination for arts and culture. It would help diversify the local economy from one that is heavily dependent on the ski industry and related sectors as well as act as a catalyst for the broader creative community, the supporters said. Thomas that day called the agreement a “miraculous moment” and a “perfect opportunity.”
More than four years later, though, there has been limited progress on the district, and it is not clear what sort of project City Hall will ultimately seek to build. Although there was widespread support in 2017 to develop a district like the one outlined by the mayor at the time, the backing has appeared to wane to a degree in the years since. The novel coronavirus pandemic and the early economic uncertainty it wrought in the community led to further questions about whether the municipal government should pursue such a significant project.
Still, Park City officials in 2020 submitted an application to the Planning Department to develop the arts and culture district, detailing a project involving buildings where the Kimball Art Center and the Sundance offices would be located. Other aspects of the application included 50 residences that City Hall would operate as rental units in the workforce or otherwise affordable housing program, upward of 12 co-op spaces, creative spaces, a food hall, artist exhibition space and event space. Computer-generated renderings of the district have highlighted the possibility of a Kimball Art Center building designed to include triangle-shaped rooflines meant to recognize the mountains of Park City.
“It really brings together and puts into action a whole range of the city’s critical priorities,” David Everitt, a deputy Park City manager and the staffer leading the efforts, said at the time of the submittal.
The application has not advanced amid increasing questions from the public and some leaders. Many are especially focused on the estimated $65 million cost. The figure is more than a year old and officials expect to update the estimate when Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council better narrow the scope of the project.
The elected officials are expected to hold discussions later in 2021 about the arts and culture district, after addressing the topic in a series of difficult meetings months ago. The elected officials need to decide the scope of a project, which will drive the budget numbers. More talks are tentatively slated by the end of 2021, a timeline that could put the talks during a fall campaign season with the mayor’s office and two City Council seats on the ballot or in the period after Election Day. Additional talks are also planned with the Kimball Art Center, Sundance and other arts organizations.
City Hall would expect to recoup some of the costs through the sale of land to the Kimball Art Center and Sundance for their buildings. Housing rentals and commercial leases would also bring in revenue to the municipal government. Other funding sources could include lodging taxes, City Hall monies set aside for capital projects and transportation funds.
City Hall already cleared much of the land for the project earlier in the year, tearing down buildings that were there. The ground is now partially fenced, but the visuals of empty land at such a high-profile location are striking. Officials later in 2021 plan to allow food trucks, art installations and other art-related activities at the location. Those uses could run into the ski season.
The timeline, should the arts district project proceed as envisioned, depends on decisions by the elected officials, discussions about designs with the Kimball Art Center and Sundance and, later, the process before the Park City Planning Commission. Discussions by the Planning Commission about a project as large as the arts district can sometimes take longer than a year. Officials predict a construction start date in 2023, at the earliest.
But the work will depend on the community agreeing that City Hall has designed a masterpiece.
Arts district needs clean canvas
Park City wants to build an arts and culture district, but the canvas is not clean at the outset.
City Hall acquired land stretching inward from the intersection of Kearns Boulevard and Bonanza Drive with the intention of developing a district. It had been expected that underneath the ground would be soils contaminated during Park City’s silver-mining days, and that the municipal government would need to address the soils as part of any development there.
Park City was founded in the 19th century as a mining camp, and the industry drove the economy until it collapsed amid a sharp drop in silver prices. Even as Park City later rose again with the arrival of the ski industry, the mining-era contaminated soils and other materials remained. Park City leaders for decades have dealt with the environmental legacy of the silver mining through a variety of methods.
City Hall officials as it readied to develop the arts district, and other construction projects, devised a concept to build a facility known as a repository to store the soils. The location selected was municipal land located at the S.R. 248-Richardson Flat Road intersection, along the entryway.
Leaders previously used a repository at Richardson Flat, which dated to the mining era, but it has not been available for longer than a decade. Materials removed since then have been brought to a facility in Tooele County.
The concept of building a repository was seen as a cost-effective solution since City Hall would not be required to truck the materials to Tooele County, and officials wanted to take responsibility for the contaminants by storing them locally.
The efforts, though, earlier in the year drew a broad rebuke from the community. Critics worried about the impact on the environment and public health. It was a rare example of near unanimous disapproval of a City Hall program or policy that stretched across political, socioeconomic and neighborhood lines.
Mayor Andy Beerman and the Park City Council, bowing to the opponents, in August formally opted against proceeding with the repository. In doing so, they also wanted City Hall staffers to explore the impact of the decision on the scope and budget of municipal projects that are under consideration in locations where contaminated soils are expected to be unearthed. The arts and culture district is likely to be the highest profile of those projects.
The elected officials at the same meeting wanted talks restarted with the EPA about the storage of contaminated soils. They also requested staffers withdraw an application for a repository at the S.R. 248-Richardson Flat Road intersection that had been filed with the state Department of Environmental Quality prior to the community’s rebuke.
The repository concept became politicized during the City Hall primary election, which was held in August, with some of the candidates seeming to see the issue as a vulnerability for incumbents who are seeking reelection. It is likely a long-term solution for the storage of contaminated soils could be debated during the fall campaign after the repository concept caused such an uproar in the months before Election Day in November.
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