Record editorial: Is the arts district a masterpiece, or a rough draft that should be scrapped?
In the summer of 2017, City Hall’s announcement that it had struck a deal to acquire land in Bonanza Park to transform the area into a hub for arts and culture was met with enthusiasm.
Many Parkites saw the notion of the city building an arts and culture district as invigorating and forward thinking and something that could revitalize a neighborhood that lacks the cohesiveness and character of other areas in town.
Nearly four years later, much has changed — not the least of which is the economic situation, due to the worst pandemic in a century.
As the Park City Council continues its discussions about the arts and culture district, the elected officials should ask themselves a crucial question: Is there still broad support right now for a project like this, and on such a significant scale?
The answer at this point is unclear. While most Parkites still seem to approve of the motivations underlying the concept — fostering art and creativity and diversifying the economy, among other goals — the project itself has become increasingly scrutinized. And some residents apparently no longer see the proposed district as a magnum opus.
For one, there are concerns about the price tag. In contrast to City Hall’s open space acquisitions over the years, when Parkites have gladly voted to pay higher taxes for land preservation, there is not a consensus that the arts and culture district is worth the $88.4 million in taxpayer money it would cost, even if some of the funds would be eventually recouped.
No question, it’s a lot of money, especially when the full economic picture of the coronavirus pandemic is not yet known, though the economy has rebounded much more quickly than almost anyone predicted last spring.
There are also doubts about whether the project as envisioned by City Hall would ultimately achieve its stated goals. Some are skeptical that a vibrant arts district with the kind of funky atmosphere that would make it a destination for visitors and residents can be engineered out of thin air by a municipal government — especially one that has little prior experience with projects of this kind. They point to other areas around the country that are seen as hubs for artists and creativity that developed more organically.
Yet the proposal also has many supporters, who tout the project’s affordable housing element, the idea of putting the Kimball Art Center and the Utah headquarters of the Sundance Institute in close proximity and the inclusion of spaces where artists of various kinds could create work. The district would undoubtedly be an improvement over what has long been a disjointed and underutilized part of town.
The pertinent questions are whether that justifies the money — which could be used on larger affordable housing projects, put to other uses or simply not spent — and whether a different concept would better serve the community.
Is the proposal a masterpiece, or is it a rough draft that should be scrapped or at least significantly revised?
Like with art, the answer is subjective. But what’s not is the fact Park City’s elected officials will face a momentous decision in choosing whether to move forward with the district, one that will leave a lasting mark on the community.
City Hall is hosting a virtual roundtable discussion about the arts and culture district on Monday from 6-7:15 p.m. in advance of a public hearing Wednesday. The online event can be accessed at facebook.com/parkcitygovt or us02web.zoom.us/j/89241997571.
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