Tom Clyde: Traffic, crowds are prices we pay for Park City’s success
It sort of feels like February out there all of a sudden. Last weekend’s storm didn’t live up to the hype, but we’ve come to expect that. The predicted 18 to 20 inches at my house turned out to be somewhere around 6 inches, maybe eight. It was blowing around enough that it’s hard to tell. It’s been a long time since I woke up to -10 degrees, and while that’s normal for this time of year, it’s a shock.
Up on the mountain, it was a solid 18 inches. I was counting on light powder. What we got was a little on the wet side. The wind also rearranged it a couple of times during the storm, so the end result was a bit heavy and wind packed. Not that I’m complaining. This season, any snow is good snow, and I certainly had fun playing in it on Monday.
Monday was Presidents Day, and the town was stuffed to the gills. Then to add to the festivities, the roads in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons were closed or restricted. Based on the traffic in Empire Bowl, there were a lot of Alta and Snowbird skiers here. It wasn’t crowded, but it was a lot busier than normal for a stormy day when the usual Deer Valley crowd is making a late start.
It’s getting harder to know what normal is. In an almost snow-less winter with spring-like temperatures, it feels like skier numbers are up anyway. Driving in on Monday, 248 was backed up to the rail trail crossing. The traffic trying to exit U.S. 40 from Heber was backed up a half mile into the 65 mph traffic on the freeway. Traffic inched forward and then moved freely once I passed the light at Comstock. The storm was obviously a factor, but the road crews had done an amazing job of getting things cleared after a storm of that size. It was really just normal traffic.
It was only about 8:45 a.m., but already the PCMR lots were full and people were parking at the high school lot. Parking at Deer Valley was tight and ultimately spilled out on to the road. I don’t know if they cut off ticket sales that day, but if had to be close. It’s something the community has spent the last 40 years working for. Not traffic jams specifically, but the overall effect. The marketing efforts of the Chamber and the resorts have paid off. So this is what success feels like.
Beaches or ski hills, there’s a difficult relationship between the residents of the resort towns and the visitors who make the towns possible. Now there is a third party in the mix – the “down-valley” workforce the resort town needs to function, but cannot house locally. The daily influx of workers in Summit County is about 10,000 people. That’s everybody from the liftie at the top of the mountain to the burger flipper at Kimball Junction. We’ve got no solution for them.
It’s easy to say that if we just had fewer visitors, we’d need fewer employees, and there would be less traffic, more parking, and maybe condos that are now vacation rentals would turn back into full-time housing. It would all be sunshine and lollipops like it used to be. Except that it’s the visitors who pay the bills around here. About 85 percent of the sales tax revenue Park City receives comes from visitors spending $2,000 a night on hotel rooms, $900 a day on ski lessons, lift tickets, ski rentals, meals, and on and on. The sales tax on those $30 lunches at Miners Camp adds up, and it’s not the locals buying them. We eat at home.
Property tax is equally skewed. Primary residents — locals — get a 45 percent discount on our property taxes, while all those vacation condos and second home mansions are taxed at the commercial rate. About 60 percent of the total property tax revenue for the City comes from property taxed at the commercial rate. The end result is that our lifestyle here, with golf courses, ice sheets, recreation centers, libraries, dog park and you name it, is heavily subsidized.
The City spends about $14,000 per resident, with about 70 percent of that coming from people who don’t live here. That’s about ten times what Coalville or Kamas spends per resident, and almost all of their revenue comes from the residents. The differences are pretty hard to miss.
The visitors pay for the MARC, the ice sheet, Bonanza Flat, public art and flower baskets. In exchange for them subsidizing our living far beyond our means, we put up with snarled traffic, difficult parking, lift lines, and general congestion. And some Texan poaching my line through the trees.
It’s the bargain we made a long time ago. And one I still wonder about.
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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Tom Clyde was not impressed with Jeff Bezos’ recent trip to “space,” though it does make him wonder if space tourism should be in Park City’s future.