Art Fest and Main Street: a perfect match in mountains
August 12, 2016
About 10 years ago, some wondered whether Kimball Art Center's annual festival had become too big for Main Street. Old Town merchants were feeling constricted by what they saw as a barricade of artists' booths and an invasion of out-of-town food vendors. At the same time, the Kimball was looking for ways to expand the event, which had become a major funding source for its year-round programs. There was even talk, almost inconceivable now, about moving the event to another part of town.
But once everyone's complaints were aired, all agreed that the highly-regarded Art Festival and Main Street's iconic backdrop were meant to share one canvas.
Instead of going their separate ways, City Hall, the merchants and the Art Center hammered out an agreement that would serve a common purpose: creating a vibrant palette for both the festival and the town. The upshot was a five-year contract detailing a number of conditions to placate merchants' concerns while also offering the Kimball Art Center vital logistical support to handle the burgeoning event.
It worked so well the contract was renewed for another five-year term, during which time both flourished. According to a study of last year's event, the festival is credited with generating $28.5 million in overall economic activity in town.
But that agreement is due to end this year and it is time to consider a few more tweaks.
There have been a number of changes over the last decade, the most notable being the Art Center's decision to sell its longtime home on Main Street. There is also mounting tension over the increasing number of special events and street closures on Main Street, and a widespread concern in general about traffic congestion.
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But those challenges are not insurmountable. The owners of the Kimball's old digs are planning to incorporate a special-events space in their plan that hopefully can allow organizers to set up lounges and command centers. And, in fact, the Festival's transportation plan, which has been perfected over the years, is a model of how public transit can handle big crowds on little roads.
There are a few new wrinkles, though, that should be addressed in any new agreement. This year, for instance, the Kimball has riled local taxi companies by striking a sponsorship deal with online transportation network Uber. As part of its sponsorship, which was OK'd by City Hall Thursday, Uber drivers will be able to pick up and drop off customers on the upper deck of the China Bridge parking structure, a prime spot that local taxis will not be able to access.
The Uber faux pas harkens back to that earlier era when Festival organizers were seen as insensitive to the needs of locally based, year-round merchants. But just as they have set the gold standard for special events in other ways, we are counting on the city and the Kimball to devise a more equitable solution – one that could establish a transportation template for other special events too. One suggestion is to designate specific taxi stand spots (available to all licensed transportation companies) at major events and during high season weekends. That would give local companies equal access and help alleviate the city's traffic and parking problems.
Whether you are a fan of festivals or a more crowd-averse type, take a stroll on Main Street this weekend and share your input with local officials. The Park City Kimball Arts Festival is a great example of how special interests can work together to create a great special event.