Tom Clyde: How to burn $100 million
Demolition work began this week on the buildings that are in the way of the proposed arts and culture district. Like everything else connected with that project, it is happening in slow motion. When I drove by and saw the excavator scooping the guts out of the old clinic building, it kind of hurt. I remember when that building was built, along with the Maverick and what began as the hardware store. They were part of a new neighborhood of businesses that were, at the time, essential services in town. It’s strange, but I have absolutely no recollection of what was there before. Maybe it was just the end of the tailings pond. Bonanza Drive was new, so there wouldn’t have been buildings facing a street that didn’t exist.
There’s something about the American idea of disposable buildings that seems wrong. Our commercial buildings are as disposable as Styrofoam food containers. Stand them up, use them for a while and then scrape them off to build the next disposable building. There isn’t much built here in the last 40 years that anybody is going to lie down in front of a bulldozer to preserve. Instead, they are built with intentional disposability in mind, and like the buildings along Bonanza, much of it will be scraped off and sustainably hauled to the landfill. The only real impediment to demolition on most of the last generation of buildings is the ownership structure. Most of it is condominium, some of it timeshared, and it’s very difficult to reassemble the title to all of it to make way for the wrecking ball, much as some of them deserve it.
But the demolition has begun, which marks the implementation of the city’s non-plan for the arts and culture district. There is probably more of a plan on somebody’s desk than in the public mind. It’s dragged on for so many years that whatever details have been put out there have long been forgotten. Kimball Art Center and Sundance Institute are supposed to be the new anchor tenants, replacing the more useful Maverick gas station. There is a kinda-sorta-maybe handshake deal to sell them lots where they will grace us with iconic buildings of the type that we will be trying to preserve in 50 years. Except that neither has the money to build a two-hole outhouse at the moment, and this doesn’t feel like a great time for gigantic capital campaigns to raise it.
In the real world, there would be signed contracts, established prices, substantial non-refundable deposits and closing dates in place. In the world where City Hall is the developer, there are general ideas. Net of whatever the two nonprofits pay for their lots, the city’s expense is said to be another $100 million, on top of what has been paid to buy the land and the perfectly serviceable but now disposed-of buildings. That’s a guess, without having enough of a plan in place to really know. If you don’t know what you are building, it’s difficult to get a bid from a contractor.
One hundred million is real money. I realize that it’s only about one and a half Sweeneys, or a dozen or so homes in some neighborhoods. But still. The money is supposed to come from future lodging taxes, so the theory is that tourists pay for this little patch of bliss. That’s sort of true, but if the city didn’t build the arts and culture district, there would be $100 million that it could spend on something else. Put another way, spending $100 million on the arts and culture district precludes almost everything else for the life of the bond.
The Historic Main Street Alliance has complained that they see this as diverting funds from future Main Street area projects, and in effect uses taxes on their customers to subsidize a competing commercial district. They have a point.
The traffic and parking problems this winter were really at a breaking point. With the announcement that Vail Resorts is cutting pass prices by 20%, and planning to make it up by increasing volume, we can be assured that parking and traffic will only get worse. And $100 million would build the mother of all parking garages. The Bonanza property is in the wrong place, but if Walgreens (another disposable building), moved to Bonanza, the Walgreens property could solve our parking problems with a Vail-funded gondola to connect it to the resort base.
And if we are really getting into the business of moving stuff around to correct past mistakes, how about storing road salt and parking the buses at Richardson Flat instead of on some of the most valuable ground in town?
Our core business is skiing, and until it quits snowing, it will be. If there is really $100 million in hot money that needs to be spent, it ought to be spent on that core business. If we get to where our core business is providing the highest level of experience, which would include eliminating parking lot fist fights, then we can look at adding things that supplement it.
The demolition is underway. The new development is years away. Let’s hope that for the interim, they at least use the soon-vacant lots as parking, and run frequent shuttles to both PCMR and Deer Valley while we reconsider where to burn $100 million.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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This ski season was great once it got going, writes Tom Clyde. Being outdoors on the slopes was “a powerful and necessary thing this year.”