Sundance fees criticized | ParkRecord.com

Sundance fees criticized

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The Park City Council seems prepared to significantly hike business-license fees to help pay for the bus system and the Sundance Film Festival even as merchants complain that the increases would be harmful to their bottom lines.

Mayor Dana Williams and the City Council on Thursday night continued their annual budget talks with a hearing regarding the proposed changes in the way fees attached to business licenses are figured. Businesspeople who testified were unhappy with the idea.

City Hall staffers devised the proposed fees in an effort to finance a deal with Sundance that keeps the festival locally and allows the festival’s organizers to relocate Sundance’s year round Utah headquarters to Park City from Salt Lake City. The staffers also want to pump money into the city’s fare-free bus system, which they argue is a significant benefit to the business community.

The bus-related increase to the fees would be 25 percent. The festival portion, which would also generate some money for events other than Sundance, would range depending on the type of business.

According to a spreadsheet explanation, lodging properties would pay the most on the festival portion, 62 percent. Other sectors that would pay toward the high end of the range are restaurants and retailers, but there could be changes to those categories later, outdoor-dining establishments and large retailers, those with more than 12,000 square feet.

Staffers indicated after the hearing that they would craft an option to phase in the bus-related increase and consider separating restaurants and retailers when figuring the festival potion. The two sectors would then possibly pay different amounts. Currently, staffers have asked that both restaurants and retailers pay a 56 percent increase on the festival portion but some argue that restaurants do better business than retailers during festivals.

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There was consternation during a hearing, with some businesspeople worried that they would not benefit and that the figures appeared steep.

Sara Henry, who owns Art of Wine, a wine accessory store in Snow Creek Plaza, told the City Council that her store suffers during Sundance because she caters to Parkites, not visitors.

"My business is a locals’ business," she said, describing the idea that she would be assessed to help finance the Sundance deal as the "ultimate slap in the face."

Hans Fuegi, who owns Grub Steak, a Prospector restaurant, called the two portions "a double whammy." Bill Malone, the executive director of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said he supports the festival-related portion but was unsure about the increase for the bus system.

Ken Davis, the president of the Main Street Business Alliance, read a lengthy prepared statement in opposition, arguing that sales on Main Street are essentially flat over the past five years and expenses are rising.

"If you want to give the businesses in this town a chance to survive, I suggest that you take a closer look at what really is happening here," Davis said.

He said the Chamber/Bureau should cover the Sundance deal through hotel taxes that it is given by Summit County.

"It is a countywide tax on any short-term visits and in my view the most appropriate source to tap for the Sundance shortfall," Davis said. "Sundance brings overnight visitors in spades. Many of whom don’t even stay in Park City proper."

The City Council plans to continue its discussions about business-license fees on June 1, when another hearing regarding the budget is scheduled. The elected officials are scheduled to adopt the budget on June 15. The increases to the business licenses would be approved when the budget is OK’d.