Vail’s arrival, Park City’s mayoral contest made 2013 a news-rich year
December 31, 2013
One of the newsiest years in the post-2002 Winter Olympic era unfolded in the Park City area in 2013.
Parkites were fixated on a lawsuit in the ski industry that could reshape the resort landscape in the community. They also picked the first new mayor in 12 years. The five top news stories in Park City in 2013, as chosen by the staff of The Park Record, follow:
1. The arrival of Vail
In late May, well after the end of the ski season, there was major movement in the Park City ski industry.
Vail Resorts reached a long-term agreement to lease and operate Canyons Resort in what was one of the most significant deals to ever involve one of the three Park City-area mountain resorts. Vail Resorts put a long-term debt obligation on its books reaching more than $300 million, the publicly traded company said at the time.
The lease has an initial term of 50 years with the option of six 50-year renewals. Vail Resorts agreed to pay Talisker Corporation, Canyons Resort’s owner, $25 million annually and a percentage of earnings above a certain level.
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The deal brought one of the ski industry’s top names into the Park City market. The 2013-2014 ski season is Canyons Resort’s first under the management of Vail Resorts.
Skiers in Park City and elsewhere in Utah were intrigued with the possibility of purchasing the Vail Resorts Epic Pass, a prized ski pass that is good at Vail Resorts properties in Colorado and other domestic resorts as well as resorts in Austria and Switzerland.
Vail Resorts, meanwhile, took over the Talisker Corporation side’s role in a closely watched lawsuit with Park City Mountain Resort about a disputed lease. PCMR brought the lawsuit in 2012, claiming it had the right to remain on the Talisker Corporation acreage underlying most of the resort’s terrain. The other side argues PCMR did not renew the lease.
The case was already the biggest news in Park City as 2013 started, and it garnered even wider interest as the year progressed. In late August, in a dramatic move, the Talisker Corporation side served PCMR with a de facto eviction notice, giving the resort five days to leave the property. The resort labeled the notice "Vail’s bullying" and did not leave.
There was a heated exchange in the year about the date of a critical letter regarding the lease, PCMR won the right to expand the case and the Talisker Corporation side filed a countersuit. As the year ended, the sides remained in the discovery phase of the lawsuit with high-profile depositions either having been taken or still scheduled. It seems possible a trial could be scheduled in 2014.
2. Mr. mayor-elect
The Park City election season started early in 2013 with an announcement by Mayor Dana Williams, the incumbent who was in the final year of his third term.
In early April, Williams declared he would not seek re-election. Shortly afterward, Andy Beerman, a member of the Park City Council, said he would campaign for Park City’s highest elected office. Later, Park City Planning Commissioner Jack Thomas announced he would also run for the mayor’s office.
Nobody else mounted a mayoral campaign, leaving Beerman and Thomas to scuffle in a campaign that some had initially anticipated would draw a heavy slate of candidates. The two offered stark contrasts in professional background, age and public service. Their platforms offered diverse views of the community as well.
Thomas told voters he wanted a decision making at City Hall to be more contemplative as he trumpeted his experience in development matters. Beerman, meanwhile, stressed a range of issues that included boosting the economy.
There was not a primary election in the mayoral campaign that could have provided some indication of where the campaign stood as the fall election season loomed. Voters chose Thomas on Election Day, giving him a solid win but not a landslide victory.
"What it means to the town is that we’ve just reaffirmed the values we unequivocally stated in our visioning process," Thomas said after the win, referring to a lengthy exercise during which Parkites helped craft ideas for the future of Park City.
Thomas takes office early in January.
Voters also kept City Councilwoman Cindy Matsumoto for a second term and added Tim Henney to the City Council. Alex Butwinski, an incumbent City Councilor seeking re-election to a second term, was denied four more years.
3. A ‘real scary’ fire
Fire and emergency officials had warned people in Park City and surrounding Summit County that the 2013 fire season could be serious.
The conditions were right for a devastating fire, they said, but it was not until late in the summer that a terrible blaze, blamed on lightning, ignited. What came to be known as the Rockport fire erupted in the middle of August. The flames charred 1,944 acres of land and destroyed eight homes. Numerous outbuildings succumbed to the flames. Sheds and vehicles were also lost.
An evacuation order affected upward of 250 people who lived in neighborhoods like Rockport Estates, Rockport Ranches, Bridge Hollow and Promontory. Some of them had to wait nearly a week to return to their places. Nobody was injured, something that was especially notable to the firefighting teams that responded.
The Rockport fire sent smoke high into the air over the eastern horizon of the Snyderville Basin. The parking lot outside the Summit County Sheriff’s Office headquarters at Silver Summit provided one of the vantage points. Firefighting airplanes could be seen arcing toward the smoke and flames to support the crews on the ground.
"A lot of people have been risking their lives to fight this fire and everyone here is incredibly grateful. We are so appreciative of the help from all the agencies involved and so many brave pilots," Rich Sonntag, the managing director of Promontory, said.
One of the people who was stopped from returning home during the fire, Andy Varner, described the lightning strike that started the blaze. He was fishing on Rockport Reservoir at the time.
"It was real scary. We called 911, but by the time we got there we couldn’t get in," he said, adding. "We are fine. Our house is fine. But honestly, today is bittersweet. Lots of us have our homes, but some of us don’t."
4. Another building boom
If it was not the crane looming over the high-traffic intersection of Main Street and Heber Avenue it might have been the hammering away at the frames of new houses in Park City’s neighborhoods that signaled the construction industry enjoyed a resurgence in 2013.
The industry, long a bellwether of Park City’s economy, did not come close to threatening the record-setting years prior to the recession, but there was enough construction activity inside the city that people noticed the uptick. At the end of November, the year-to-date dollar figure attached to building permits sat at just less than $69 million, nearly $7 million ahead of the 2012 pace.
A string of permits for new houses boosted the numbers. Numerous permits for alterations and additions were issued as well, as property owners continued to upgrade or expand existing properties instead of building new ones.
Some of the upgrades and expansions were notable, both in dollar figure and ambition. The most noticeable were along Main Street. The private sector invested heavily in work on Main Street buildings this year as construction zones were fenced off up and down the street.
By November and December, leaders on Main Street and at City Hall were expressing concern about the building activity along the street. They worried that the construction zones could disrupt the pedestrian experience and hurt sales.
"We believe the development community has been given a bit too much leeway and the pendulum needs to swing back closer to center," a mid-December City Hall report said.
By the time the holiday crowds arrived in Park City, the construction crews along Main Street took steps to minimize the impact, including the removal of a large crane that loomed over Main Street and the opening of a stretch of sidewalk close to the Main Street-Heber Avenue intersection.
5. Dancing through 2026
Park City will be dancing through at least 2026.
In September, after a lengthy negotiation, City Hall and the organizers of the Sundance Film Festival reached an agreement to continue holding the festival in Park City. It had been expected that the two sides would craft a long-term deal, but the details were not known until the agreement was made public in anticipation of the Park City Council vote.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations was the overlap between the festival and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday every few years. Park City leaders, pressed by the tourism industry, wanted Sundance to tinker with its dates in the years the festival and holiday overlap. The thinking was Park City’s ski industry could enjoy a strong holiday in addition to the busy festival during those years.
In what was a major concession on the part of Sundance, the organizers agreed to slightly shift the dates of the festival in the years of an overlap so Sundance starts and ends later.
"We’re committed to this community. We’re part of this community," Sarah Pearce, a Park City-based co-managing director of the Sundance Institute, said after the City Council approved the agreement.
City Hall and the Park City Chamber/Bureau will provide a package of financial inducements to festival organizers as part of the agreement. Sundance is the most lucrative special event on Park City’s calendar, and the inducements are seen as being worthwhile given the tens of millions of dollars — nearly $70 million in 2013 — in economic impact Sundance generates.
Sundance, meanwhile, will also keep its Utah offices at Silver Star on the edge of Thaynes Canyon through at least 2023.