Teri Orr: Welcome to The Junk…
I am a reasonably educated person on local politics. I study issues. I ask hard questions. Since I have lived here a long time, starting in 1979, I have a long view of what has been approved here and why some projects never got “legs.”
All that said … I cannot get my head around the current nuances over The Once and Future Tech Park at Kimball Junction. If you are new to Park City, Kimball Junction is that charming intersection where McDonald’s meets Del Taco and provides the very thoughtful, nuanced entrance statement to our greater community.
There is no important piece of public art left from the Olympics to mark the road leading up to the Utah Olympic Park because none was created there. No defining giant bronze, say, of a skier in flight. No funky abandoned skis made into an arch like antlers are in the quirky towns in Wyoming. No fabulous stone works that proclaim, well, anything. You have just taken an off-ramp, off an interstate, and you have ended up in a location that repeats itself in fast food and traffic light statements the country over.
The road that leads to the Olympic Park borders the land in contention. The Games were held in 2002 when snow was abundant and we thought little about the fuel those G-5’s landing in Utah and taking off were sucking up. And Mitt Romney got so mad he said H-E-double hockey sticks about Olympic traffic congestion in another canyon. Overall, here we moved car traffic and big buses surprisingly smoothly almost 20 years ago. We proudly pointed out our undeveloped meadows. They were a kind of noblesse oblige open space. But someone always owned that land. And it wasn’t The Public. Someone owned it for decades with an eye on developing it. Without doing formal deed research I can tell you the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owned it for the longest time and then through its real estate arm — PRI — decided to create a tech park. We attracted a total of one tech company that wanted its own building. Count them. One. Nice folks from Skullcandy who kept a low profile and didn’t demand much and played well with others. They created a building that mostly fits with the land, and they have stunning views in their office spaces and especially in their community room.
The Boyer Company took over the project in 2008 and in 2019 sold to the newest landowner, Dakota Pacific Real Estate — and they want to restart the last approval which includes a hotel and affordable and market-rate housing and a bit of retail there.
Because I just couldn’t totally understand fully what is at stake here I drove out there last weekend and parked at the Overland Trailhead and got of the car and took some photos. The views — standing on the edge of that land and looking back at Park City — are really stunning. The Olympic Park — smack dab in front of this land with the dual jumps — is especially beautiful with new snow on the jumps. The mountains of Park City and Deer Valley were dusted “just right” in the sunlight. And from up there on that little ridge … I didn’t hear traffic at all.
This is where I become so torn. Lord knows, as much as I value open space … and we could consider fundraising to buy that land and keep it open … what we need are places for real humans to live, who work here already. Places for them to buy when they can, but first, places for them to rent. Rent controlled. Because increasingly the level of service we have come to expect is slipping away because the stated workforce can’t afford to work here. With a tank of gas running $70 and wages less than $20 an hour and your drive to work and home again is an hour, each way. … The math starts to fail pretty fast.
If we want to try in any fashion to keep lift operators and wait staff and teachers and ambulance drivers and the guy that tunes your skis “just so,” then we need to create serious workforce housing. We need to do that first. Does the area at the Junction need a multi-star hotel and restaurant? That would be terrific for travelers and tourists and families that come to visit. But if we don’t address the workforce housing first — there won’t be anyone to make the beds or make the salads.
We can do hard things. Renegotiate the contract. Prioritize critical needs. Critical needs. Make them get solved first — before the shiny stuff can happen. Period. I mean imagine if we created workforce housing for the workforce that would eventually be building the hotel or working in it. There has to be a smart ethical way to make that happen and that still benefits the developer.
Do we need an entry statement to town? To our greater Summit County — gateway to recreation and arts? Hell yes. Somebody commission that — write some grants — but please, please, please get some real artists involved. Artists who understand how to create at that scope and have some history of other great projects. We have lots of campy public art. We need something with gravitas for this. I feel pretty certain the Utah Arts Council could help us. I know there are a number of solid philanthropists that would be excited to fund a smart project like this. You drive through that spaghetti mess of an intersection (we have no earthly idea when or if the state is gonna fix that) and then you would see … That Thing. And your blood pressure would go down and a peaceful easy feeling would remind you why we don’t honk car horns here. We simply do not need to honk.
For years I worked with a Townie guy who called Kimball Junction — The Junk. It was a cross between some hipster slang and an opinion on what was located “out there.” I still have that ear worm on days when I don’t hit the lights right to sail easily through on my way onto or off of I-80. Stuck at The Junk.
So for now — let’s find a way to work with the landowner and create uses for that beautiful land that first will focus on the terrific humans already working here who would love to live here. Those humans we need to have living here for us all to survive. And let’s create real art together. Not overpass art but Art with a capital “A” that makes us swell up a bit with recognition and then whisper … we’re home.
Maybe we should have stopped approving things before all those units at Canyons Village were passed where hundreds of cars come and go all day and night and yet almost no one actually lives there. Just because we made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean we need to keep on making them.
Our county councilors have to weigh all this and try to come to a Solomon-like decision with landowners rights and the right to live in a place where we don’t knowingly add to congestion and the right to find affordable housing for the least among us, who are the glue for all of us.
I don’t have the answer but I know we need a new one, this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.
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