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Sundance stays lucrative

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The Sundance Film Festival in January pumped $52.9 million into Park City’s economy, organizers reported on Tuesday, capping a decade of spectacular growth for the city’s most famous and lucrative event.

This year’s festival generated $61.5 million in economic activity statewide, a study by the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business found, the Sundance Institute said. The economic activity was up 45 percent from 2005, Sundance said.

The numbers were widely hailed in Park City, which hosts most of the film screenings during the festival and almost all of Sundance’s revelry.

Robust figures were expected in the aftermath of this year’s festival, which many people in Park City said was the busiest ever. The degree of the spike in the numbers was not anticipated, however.

"The great news is there’s more interest than ever in independent film," said Jill Miller, the managing director of the institute.

Statewide economic activity has grown rapidly in the last decade, with the institute reporting that the figure sat at $17.4 million in 1997. Attendance in 2006 hit 52,850, up from the 17,240 counted at the 1997 festival. Of those who went to the festival in 2006, 37,470 were not from Utah and 45 percent attended for the first time.

"We knew there were a lot of people in town and business was strong," Miller said.

Some of the figures the study found include:

( People at the festival spent $26.6 million on lodging.

( They spent $12.7 million on meals.

( They paid $2.5 million for transportation, not including airline tickets.

( On average, someone visiting from outside of Utah spent $294.88 each day on lodging, meals, transportation and other spending.

( Sixty-five percent of the festival-goers told surveyors they would return to Utah or Park City for other reasons and 93 percent planned to attend Sundance again.

The survey does not include data for people who visited during film-festival week but not for Sundance, such as those attending the separate Slamdance Film Festival, meaning that the economic activity for the week was likely higher than reported.

On Main Street, where huge festival crowds gather each day, the numbers were not shocking. In January, some businesses reported record sales during the festival.

On Monday, Kevin Henry, the general manager of the Wasatch Brew Pub, said sales in the opening weekend of the 2006 festival were the best ever during a film festival. Only the 2002 Winter Olympics topped that weekend’s numbers, he said. Liquor sales were especially strong.

"Imagine that, they’re going to drink," he said, calling the festival business "fantastic."

Chelsea Darveau, the assistant manager at Mary Jane’s, a women’s and children’s store on Main Street, agreed that business was solid during film-festival week, with visitors buying shoes, boots and clothes.

"We had some of our best days ever," Darveau said, adding that four or five people were staffing the store at a time during the festival, compared with the one person there during the off-season. "We were constantly running around."

But at her Main Street art gallery, Karen Terzian said she was disappointed during Sundance, saying that her sales were slower in 2006 compared to 2005. She said the delays in opening the new Swede Alley garage hurt her during Sundance and people visiting during the festival were not in the art market.

"I don’t think the group that came into my gallery were very strong buyers," Terzian said.

She said satellite trucks parked outside the Volkswagen lounge, which temporarily occupied a store nearby the gallery, blocked Terzian’s building, hindering business.

Terzian said she would consider renting her gallery space to corporate interests during the 2007 festival.

Before Sundance emerged as an international draw, the last half of January had typically been a post-holiday lull in Park City’s ski season. The festival, though, has turned that period into an important stretch between the holidays and Presidents Day weekend, which is at the beginning of the city’s strong spring-break business.

The 2006 figures are especially encouraging at City Hall, which in late 2005 struck an agreement with the institute that keeps the festival in Park City through 2018 with a 10-year option after that. The deal also provides for the relocation of Sundance’s Utah headquarters from Salt Lake City to the Silver Star development on the slopes of Park City Mountain Resort.

Sundance is seen by many as the premier marketplace for independent films in the U.S. and, with festivals like those in Cannes, France, Toronto and Berlin, among the world’s best film festivals. Films like the "Blair Witch Project," "sex, lies and videotape" and "Super Size Me" debuted at Sundance.


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