Teri Orr: The real art of designing vibrant spaces…
First, the city needs to be applauded here lest we forget how this arts and culture project started … for securing those nearly 6 acres acres of critical, visible, desirable space from a developer who had the ability — due a hiccup in the zoning — to build eight-story buildings there. They were expected to be — feared to be really — high-priced, high-end and visually impactful.
By purchasing that land, the city started dreaming of a future of affordable housing projects for the residents of Park City. There was also a desire to create a replacement space for the Kimball Art Center, which had reached a most unfortunate standoff with the city — forcing the sale of the iconic Main Street building. And there was the parallel desire to keep Sundance anchored inside the city limits as it looked at offers to build something more permanent to house its offices … maybe a little museum, archival space for artifacts. In addition, there was talk of building workspaces for filmmakers and workshop space for actors that made sense. It made sense four years ago on Planet What Was. As did the idea of a gathering place for pop-ups of all kinds of performing and visual artists. Since venues like City Park and resort base areas had been lost to the community for multi-uses.
The major source of funding — as I recall — was to be the transient-room tax monies which seemed endless, with a secure growing bed base of guests. And right now, because of COVID, those funds are uncertain without a way to predict when that funding stream will be vibrant again.
But we also need to consider the matter of the toxic soil that exists there and will have to be mitigated regardless of who builds what. Millions of dollars of mitigation is needed before any building starts above that soil. I know a little bit about that — having been involved with soil mitigation for the Eccles Center when it was built 25 years ago.
Simply put — this is not the time or the space to try and build this project with an uncertain future for arts and culture and tourism on the planet.
The Sundance festival model will shift this year to a global platform and after that genie is out, it will be very hard to have Park City again be the exclusive anchor for the festival. During COVID — all our viewing habits have changed and as Sundance continues its extraordinary stewardship of fostering independent films and filmmakers — the very home and birthplace of the work, the Sundance Resort, has been sold to high-end hoteliers. Yes, they have promised to keep spaces for the summer workshops but the sands are shifting and we would be foolish as a community to use yesterday’s dreams to plan our future.
When I moved to town in the late ’70s the Kimball Art Center on historic Main Street was the hub of the community. There were noted Southwestern regional artists exhibiting their works and speaking about them. A community theater group put on pop-up plays, musicians held little concerts — there were touring puppet shows there for kids. Hell, even one of my marriages took place outside in the Kimball Courtyard.
We have a Main Street right now with more national brands than at any time in our history. The old Kimball corner feels soulless — instead of inviting and inspiring. We know there is still a charm to the historic nature of Main Street but it is rapidly disappearing. And other than going to a bar or restaurant and buying something from a store you can mostly find in the town you came from — other than things like the seasonal Silly Market and the successful pedestrian days this summer — there is little charm left. (Mountain Town Music has also done a terrific job in placing musicians in pocket parks whenever it could.)
So, take the land you have currently and build affordable housing — all you can that makes sense. And a transit hub. And as importantly — public spaces — fluid in their use and design. Take a look at The Shed project in New York City designed by the arhictect of the High Line, Elizabeth Diller. It can open up in good weather and expand over a plaza in bad weather and the two-story-tall creation uses no more power than a car engine to achieve this quick, visually appealing transformation.
And then study Marfa, Texas — how the Sentinel newspaper office shares space with a cafe, music and art studio. Look at what happens when arts and culture pop up in the 400-year-old space — The Square in Santa Fe. Look at places where arts and culture are thriving in mixed-use environments that — at their core are funky organic elements that re-use warehouses and abandoned churches and schools. Ghirardelli Square really was once a chocolate factory.
And then look again at Main Street. Right now the historic iconic Depot building is for sale on the corner of Heber and Main — just across from where the Kimball used to be. And the Summit County Arts Council has done a bold job for two Christmas seasons now — making it vibrant and welcoming again — celebrating the funk it is naturally. Organically.
Are there other buildings in that same plaza area perhaps also for sale? Is there a way to create an arts corridor all the way down to the Marriott Plaza? Can you incorporate the old timber mining era trestle there? If we are going to plan a space for creatives to work could we — at the very least — get creative about the spaces where arts and culture live and grow?
I look forward to an animated discussion very soon about the real costs of the affordable housing neighborhood the city can create in Bonanza Park. But for now — maybe we wipe the slate COVID clean — agree on the affordable housing piece and the neighborhood support needed — like a real bodega — and put a pin in the other stuff. The whole planet has been forced to change in the past nine months … we should, too. We could start 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.
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