Sundance 2030: What happens if the Winter Olympics are just days away? |

Sundance 2030: What happens if the Winter Olympics are just days away?

The hubbub of the Sundance Film Festival requires a heavy law enforcement presence on Main Street, shown during the 2019 event.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

Eleven years from now, Park City could be preparing for the fast-approaching opening ceremonies of the 2030 Winter Olympics amid the Sundance Film Festival’s closing credits.

It would be a jammed stretch for the Park City area. The film festival, and all the accompanying hubbub, would unfold amid the final preparations for the Games. As film lovers are moving between screenings, the Olympic crews would be working on the stadiums, the parking lots and other infrastructure required by the Games.

It could be reminiscent of 2002, the year Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics with the Park City area staging upward of half of the competitions. The United States Olympic Committee in December selected Salt Lake City as the nation’s bid city for a future Winter Olympics, likely the event in 2030. The USOC selection triggered the necessity for the Olympic region to begin to prepare a formal bid to be considered by the International Olympic Committee.

Park City officials must address numerous Olympic-related issues in the coming months with the likelihood they will begin holding discussions that would be much more detailed than the ones to date. The scheduling of the 2030 edition of Sundance does not appear to be a top-tier issue in the Olympic talks, but it is one that City Hall and the leadership of the film festival will need to address eventually.

City Hall and the Sundance Institute have agreed the festival will be held in Park City through the 2026 edition with annual one-year automatic renewals. Sundance has an option to leave for the final three years if it is unable to renew the lease for the organization’s Utah offices at Silver Star.

Another agreement would be needed if the sides want the festival, by far the most lucrative event on Park City’s calendar, to remain in Park City after the expiration of the current deal. It is not clear when the sides will begin negotiating, but the decision about the location of the Olympics of 2030 could be made by then. If the Games are awarded to Salt Lake City, City Hall and Sundance would be expected to address the topic in the agreement.

The current agreement stretching through the 2026 festival notes the possibility of Sundance shifting dates should an Olympics be awarded. The agreement briefly addresses the Olympics in a clause regarding the years that Sundance would overlap with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. In those years, Sundance is scheduled one week later than it would otherwise be held to allow the ski industry to capture business during a three-day weekend for many. The clause, though, allows Sundance to overlap with the holiday in an Olympic year.

In 2030, the holiday is on Jan. 21, making it one of the years when Sundance would move the dates one week later under the current arrangement unless an Olympics was looming the next month. The Olympics that year would be slated to start on Feb. 8, should the Games follow a traditional schedule. The Salt Lake Bid Committee will eventually propose the Olympic dates.

If an Olympics starts on Feb. 8, the opening ceremonies would be on the Friday after the Sunday close of Sundance if the festival was moved to accommodate the holiday rather than overlapping with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. If Sundance does not change the date to accommodate the holiday, the festival would be expected to run from Jan. 17 until Jan. 27.

City Hall and Sundance would almost certainly return to the topic if an Olympics is awarded. Park City officials and Sundance in the years before the Olympics of 2002 addressed the scheduling, deciding the film festival was too large of an event even in those days to be held so close to the opening of the Games. The film festival in 2002 was held one week earlier than is typical, running Jan. 10 until Jan. 20 rather than Jan. 17 until Jan. 27. The one-week alteration allowed City Hall workers and Olympic crews to operate in the crucial final days of preparation without the challenges of moving through the Sundance crowds and traffic.

Sundance has grown substantially since the 2002 edition. The organizers say the attendance in 2002 was 20,435 compared to the 124,900 counted in 2018. The methodology has changed over time, accounting for some of the increase, but the festival in the 17 years since the Olympic year has enjoyed a largely uninterrupted period of surging numbers. The growth involves more screening rooms, additional festival venues and a broadened corporate presence by official sponsors and companies without official ties to Sundance. The festival footprint has expanded as well, meaning there are many more temporary setups on public and private property during Sundance that would need to be dismantled before some of the short-term Olympic installations could start. Numerous Sundance locations would also be used during an Olympics.

That could make the final weekend of Sundance in 2030 far more hectic than what is expected this year. The closing credits would roll on Sundance as the Olympic torch relay rolls its way to opening ceremonies.

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