A friend of ours was visiting with a long-time Park City resident. He, like many of the people who have lived in Park City since the 1960’s, talk about how it’s not the same place it used to be. He goes a step further, though. When people ask him if they should move to Park City, he no longer says yes. “It’s not the resort town it was a few years ago,” he will say. He’ll then follow up and say “let me tell you about this small town in Idaho.” It’s not an unusual story, except for the fact he tells people that they probably don’t want to live here. However, it got us to thinking about Park City as a resort town.
One of the biggest movements over the past few years in Park City and Summit County it to try and diversify the economy. You witness that in the million-plus square feet of “tech” space in the Boyer Tech Park. You see that in the shell of the movie studio being built. You see that in the discussion the City Council is having about what role they should play in the area’s economic development. Yet, every time we move closer to having a diverse economy, that takes us farther away from being a resort community.
In a perfectly diverse community, the Park City area would host other industries that would be equivalent in economic impact to the Sundance Film Festival, Deer Valley, PCMR, and Canyons, as well as the hotels, restaurants, and shops that support these entities. The thinking goes that this diversification provides more high paying jobs and would help the area weather an economic slowdown. This is the answer for many residents who say “how can my children afford to live in Park City?”.
The problem is that if we were able to bring in all these other industries, it really does contribute to the Sandy-fication of Park City. There is something special about a resort town. It has a certain feel to it. The people live and die with it. Snow is not just pretty, it’s the lifeblood of the town. Everyone knows it and most people agree. People are united behind a singular idea and resources are focused on this singular mission.
The converse can be found in the areas like Salt Lake. Sure, they have access to arguably the best ski hills around in Alta and Snowbird, but it’s not a ski town (no matter how many slogans they try to rip off from Colorado). There are ski shops and restaurants like Porcupine that gets its share of post-ski traffic, but no one would confuse Salt Lake with Aspen. It’s not a resort town.
So what does Park City want to be? A resort town or a town with some ski resorts. The distinction is really important and really should guide many of the decisions we make.
If we want to try and maintain as many of the things that that made Park City special to the “old-timers”, then the resort focus should help guide us. That means approving development that furthers tourism. That means making decisions based on supporting visitors. That means perfecting Park City for the person visiting from Chicago. It won’t be the same as it was, but it will be the modern day version.
However, if we want to try and foster a more diverse economy with many diverse jobs, then we should be concerned with providing economic incentives, infrastructure for small business, and lots of mid-range housing. We should look to areas like Sandy, Ogden, and Draper that have been successful and emulate what they have done.
To do what we have been doing and playing both sides really doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest. If we continue the path we are on, with a constantly shifting focus, we are likely to get the Park City we all fear. One that is, at best, mediocre.