Sundance plans seen as ‘one more gut punch’ to Park City economy

The Egyptian Theatre is a longtime Sundance Film Festival screening room and the backdrop to many images of the festival. There are worries in the Park City business community about the economic impacts on the negative side of the plans to hold Sundance largely virtually in 2021.
Park Record file photo

Main Street is usually jammed during the Sundance Film Festival.

And so are Park City’s hotels and other lodging properties.

That is not expected to be the case next month as Sundance moves to an event that will largely be held virtually, with just one live venue in Park City.

In the days after Sundance’s announcement on Wednesday, there were ripples through the community as various business sectors began to consider the repercussions of effectively losing an edition of the most lucrative event on the calendar each year. There are expected to be widespread impacts on the negative side at a time when business usually booms, deepening the economic losses in Park City caused by the continued spread of the novel coronavirus.

The business community for months understood Sundance in 2021 would not be held in a similar manner as it has been in previous years, and there has not appeared to be widespread shock regarding the details. It has seemed that many were anticipating a greatly scaled-back event well before the information was released.

The lodging, restaurant and transportation industries will likely especially suffer. Hotels and other lodging properties usually charge some of the highest rates of the year, restaurants either are rented in high-dollar deals or otherwise jammed and festival-goers stream into taxis and shuttles. The opening days of Sundance — generally from the first Thursday until the first Sunday — are usually especially busy.

An economic study released after the 2020 festival calculated aggregate spending topped $150 million, much of that total in Park City and surrounding Summit County. The lodging category accounted for approximately $63.4 million while another nearly $28.8 million was spent on meals, the study, conducted by Y2 Analytics, found.

Danny Williams, the president of the Park City Area Lodging Association, said in an interview the Sundance announcement was not a surprise. The industry, though, will not be able to completely recoup the business that would have been generated during Sundance, he explained.

“We really can’t replace Sundance,” Williams said.

Williams said the lodging industry will attempt to capture additional business from skiers during Sundance. Skier numbers drop during Sundance in a typical year as Hollywood arrives in Park City, taking much of the lodging and pushing prices up. January has traditionally been a slower month for the ski industry in Park City with a post-holiday lull followed by Sundance.

The Park City Area Restaurant Association is preparing for what Ginger Wicks, the executive director, expects will be a “huge impact on the restaurant economy in Park City.” Wicks described many restaurants as still hurting after a steep drop in business since the spring even as she understands Sundance made what was a difficult choice.

“The restaurant industry overall is already suffering dramatically,” she said. “This is just one more gut punch, if you will, unfortunately.”

Main Street, meanwhile, is bracing for a loss of Sundance business. The shopping, dining and entertainment strip is one of the key locales during the festival, drawing crowds from early in the morning and into the overnight hours. There is a series of official Sundance venues along the street and numerous corporate interests temporarily open showcases in rented space.

The Historic Park City Alliance, a group that represents businesses in the Main Street core, has closely followed the decisions made by Sundance for 2021. Alison Kuhlow, the executive director, said Main Street by Wednesday understood the crowds would be reduced from a typical Sundance and the corporate interests would not be seeking temporary space to lease in 2021.

Kuhlow predicted Main Street restaurants and bars will “be hit the hardest” by the Sundance blueprints for next year. She said Main Street during Sundance will appear as if it were a normal week in the winter.

“We can still draw a good crowd of skiers,” Kuhlow said.


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