Will Park City benefit from fewer parties? | ParkRecord.com

Will Park City benefit from fewer parties?

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

People have been saying it for a while: there will be fewer corporate-sponsored parties during the Sundance Film Festival this year because of the economy.

Some local businesses owners think it might be a good thing.

The exact numbers are foggy. Mike Sweeney, whose family owns the Town Lift Plaza, predicts that there are 40 to 45 percent fewer corporate rentals on Main Street for the festival. He guessed that businesses that are renting out their space are getting about 15 to 30 percent less for it this year.

City business license clerk Shelley Hatch does the paperwork for every business coming to town and said it is down, but said she is far from being able to calculate by how much.

"It’s definitely not like what it was last year," she said.

The ugly truth

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Sweeney said this could be catastrophic for some Main Street merchants. He said many tenants used the money they made from the two weeks during Sundance to pay three or even four months of rent.

"My opinion is related to the economic survival of Main Street," he said "What Sundance has done for Park City has been an infusion of money into our economy that helps carry people over through the slow season… People are looking to survive."

Jennifer Fargo, director of the Montgomery Lee Gallery, said one of her neighbors was struggling and was counting on renting out their space for Sundance to stay in business. It didn’t happen, and they closed two months ago.

Sweeney said he’s afraid more of that will happen this summer.

The silver lining

But not everyone thinks fewer corporate-sponsored events is a bad thing.

"Non-official companies tend to engage in branding stunts or support superfluous activities. The absence of the non-official companies (ambushers) should reduce the clutter and noise that can be a distraction from the core purpose and nature of the festival," said Emily Laskin, director of development for the Sundance Institute, via email.

Danny Hill, manager of the Star Bar on upper Main Street, used to see Heineken set up shop in a gallery across the street from him and host parties every year. The beverage company decided not to come this year, and he thinks Star Bar will get more traffic because of it.

"That’s my hope," he said. "My place will be the place to be."

People promoting films will be here, but not companies marketing themselves who don’t have anything to do with cinema, he said.

"This will be more like what Sundance is supposed to be," he said. "Sundance was never meant to be a corporate event."

He’s also hopeful more Park City locals will come out now that fewer of their favorite places will be holding invitation-only events. He expects to do plenty of business with regular festival attendees.

Mike Wong, owner of the Sidecar in the Main Street Mall, said he’s excited that there will be less "guerilla marketing" this year.

He said a lot of the companies that he used to host for special events aren’t coming back this year, but it doesn’t affect his business model because he just needs people coming in the door.

"Keep it more about the films and less about the private parties and marketing events," he said.

Dustin Esson, marketing and public relations director for HarryO’s Nightclub said via email, "The clientele is still there, and will still be eager to get out and enjoy what the Sundance nightlife has to offer."

He said the scaled-back sponsorships will change the "climate" of Sundance slightly, but isn’t worried so long as his business has a "great act on stage."

Other businesses share that lukewarm reaction.

Susan Meyer of Meyer Gallery on Main usually rents out her gallery but didn’t have any takers this year. She said she’s just turning lemons into lemonade. The money from the leasing in years past gave her and her staff a paid two-week vacation in the second half of January, which was usually a soft time for business anyway. Now they’ll work those two weeks.

"It will be a much more interesting festival for festival goers. They can enjoy the authentic Park City Main Street rather than a manufactured experience," she said.

Jeff Jones, director of strategic planning for Bill White Enterprises, said his company’s restaurants normally host a few special events, and a limited number of planners have backed out this year, but the restaurants get more business from festival attendees anyway. He wants to attract individual film goers and the presence of corporate sponsors has little effect on that.

The optimism

Corporate sponsors that are coming expressed confidence about having a good experience.

"Each year, whatever we do, winds up being more and more successful," said Barclay Butera, president and CEO of Barclay Butera Inc. via email. He said he’s received a number of significant "RSVP’s" for his events.

Chris Robichaud, president of BNC, a marketing and public relations firm in Los Angeles organizes Village at The Yard.

He said in a telephone interview that his unofficial list of parties and events for the whole two weeks looks thick and is on par with years past, he said.

The exclusive events at The Yard target the filmmakers and producers so attending Sundance is a good idea in any economy, he said.

In November and December it was a little harder to get commitments from smaller companies because of the economy, but the sponsors that drive the Village are "big mega brands" that have been planning on attending Sundance since summer.

"Village gives people a space to come, conduct business, build buzz and awareness of films, and that’s their key goals for the festival," he said.