Guest opinion: The issue is not whether Park City should build the arts and culture district. The only question now is how.
I was one of the “figures” who The Park Record recently described as gathering with Jack Thomas in 2017 to enthusiastically announce plans to develop an arts and culture district in Park City. At that time, I was the board chair for the Kimball Art Center. KAC had been considering various sites for its new home. While it would have been far simpler to purchase a stand-alone parcel, we shared then-Mayor Thomas’ vision and committed to partner with Park City Municipal and the Sundance Institute to be part of something bigger than ourselves: an arts and culture district in the center of Park City that could transform the neighborhood; diversify the ski industry-based economy; and elevate, concentrate and improve community access to the arts.
Over four years, I participated in countless meetings with the city and Sundance, with arts consultants, architects, transportation experts and others, to vision and plan the district. When Mayor Thomas retired, city support for the district never wavered and progress toward its design never paused. I am particularly thankful to Mayor Beerman and Nann Worel, who stepped into Mayor Thomas’ shoes and have been constant supporters of the district. KAC relied on these commitments and remained similarly committed. It paid more than $500,000 to the city toward the purchase price for its part of the land and stands ready to pay the balance, hired consultants and architects to design its building, and has now moved into its second, temporary home to make room for district development to begin.
In moving to the Yard, it was KAC’s intention to activate an amazing space, just a stone’s throw from where its new, permanent home would be built as an anchor for the district. Unfortunately, however, the bold vision of creating an arts and culture district now appears to be in jeopardy, not because the plan cannot be executed — which it can — but because a few, loud, negative voices would rather the city cancel the project than problem-solve.
Perhaps the city and its partners, including KAC, can and should provide more information about its district plans, but the suggestion that the city is moving forward with a “non-plan” is simply not true. Nor has the city, in discussing the district’s future, been tone-deaf to the economic pressure wrought by the pandemic; to the contrary, city staff has worked hard to show the City Council and the public many different ways that funding for the district can still work. Make no mistake: There is a path forward. The project will be expensive and the city may have to delay other projects, but that has not changed since the council voted 5-0 in favor of the district in 2017. Understanding these challenges, the city made this district a priority and it is no wonder. With the current noise, it may be easy to forget, but in purchasing this strategic, historically-problematic plot of land and partnering with the town’s two oldest and most well-established arts nonprofits, the city created a once-in-a-generation opportunity. That opportunity should not now be wasted simply because there are problems to solve.
Four years ago, representatives from Park City Municipal, KAC and Sundance gathered together and publicly committed to visioning and building an arts and culture district. Since then, the city has spent money and resources to make the district a reality. And its nonprofit partners have done the same. So, respectfully, the time is long past where the city can consider whether to build an arts and culture district. The only question facing the city now is how to build it.
As reported at the Aug. 29 council meeting, we are certain that our community wants arts & cultural elements integrated into a mixed-use development including a home for Kimball Art Center, housing, transit, creative retail, local artist/maker spaces, restaurants, public art and outdoor pavilions.
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