Digital-only Sundance festival a huge economic blow for Park City and beyond


PARK CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Thursday marked the opening day of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which for the first time adopted an online-only format over COVID-19 safety concerns.

For Park City businesses, the week is often filled with grueling days — and big profits.

“You’re talking about tens of millions of dollars of revenue,” said Rich Ford with Park City Rental Properties.

“Both tax revenue and just general revenue that would come into Park City during that 10-day time frame from Sundance,” added Ford.

“Sundance, over the past few years, it had expanded. It was down in Salt Lake City. They were using theaters for viewings down in Salt Lake. So the impact is going to be quite dramatic, without question,” said Ford.

Park City Rental Properties is adapting, he said, with occupancy down slightly from last year. Visitors to Park City are gravitating toward individual units, he said, over COVID-19 concerns. Hotel occupancy rates, as ABC4 reported, are sagging with out-of-state tourists choosing not to travel.

Sundance, though, is a peak for the Park City tourist season. It’s a time when restaurants like Wasatch Brew Pub see long lines outside the door. Instead, nearly a year into a pandemic that has widely impacted restaurants, it’s business as usual. And usual, during COVID-19, hasn’t been great.

“The sidewalk’s pretty empty. Typically on this day, coming into Friday, first weekend of Sundance, we’re stacked,” said Matt Phillips with Wasatch Brew Pub.

“The sidewalks are fully loaded, and people are walking up and down the street. And it’s obvious that there’s a little bit of a change with Sundance being digital this year,” added Phillips.

The festival usually brings in big groups, sometimes corporations, who either rent out a business for a night or for the week — or simply spend big money on a dinner, for example.

“As much as the families here have considerable purchase power, you can’t compare with big corporations coming here with 20, 30 collaborators and going to expensive restaurants,” said Gabriel Weinem with Park City Rental Properties.

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