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The Nation

Never Mind Olympics; Park City Already Full

Growth: The population, and home values, soar in a place some remember as a quaint ski village.

January 29, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARK CITY, Utah — Along with the natural splendor that surrounds Utah's best-known ski town, something man made will greet spectators at next month's Winter Olympics: sprawl.

Until recently, farmland ringed this quirky 19th century mining center. Now, tract housing hugs six miles of highway leading to Park City. Million-dollar homes creep up the bold Wasatch Mountains. Cranes and bulldozers clog the streets of Old Town, the heart of Park City. The pace is so dizzying that in one short decade, the population of Park City and the county around it has nearly doubled, making this the fastest growing part of Utah--and one of the most rapidly growing places in the U.S.

The almost 100% leap in Summit County's population points to Park City's appeal--and to the fact that this area stands out as a proud and raucous anomaly in a stern and strait-laced state.

Sports and partying make Park City a place where people move to have fun at more than 100 bars and restaurants within a 20-block area.Long ago, the Mormons dubbed the town "Sin City."

Even the way this area has expanded--not through birth rate but because so many out-of-staters sought its laid-back image--puts it at odds with the rest of Utah. As host to nearly half of the events at the XIX Winter Games, Park City hopes to show the world just how separate it is from a state known primarily as the home of the Mormon Church.

Many Come From Southern California

The meteoric growth has brought new sophistication, new attitudes and new money--much of it from a stampede of Southern Californians. Some of these non-Mormon transplants liken their adopted home to the Hong Kong of Utah: an island of sorts at odds culturally, religiously and politically from the state around it.

"The truth is," said city planner Myles Rademan, "we have never been as allied with Utah as we are with Southern California."

All the expansion has infused the local economy, creating a 72% increase in jobs in 10 years. Manufacturing jobs alone doubled. Construction work went up 300%. The surge in service industry jobs boosted the Latino population by 638%.

With so many wealthy people moving in, the mean income in Summit County (where Park City is by far the largest town) jumped to $42,000--against $29,000 in the rest of Utah. Summit County's population also is the state's most highly educated.

Traffic jams on the narrow, winding roads and a pushy metropolitan mentality among many newcomers troubles some longtime residents.

"Ten years ago was where I wish Park City had stopped," said Karri Hays, a 40-year-old ski racer who has lived here most of her life. "It was perfect. You could still go down to the post office and know everyone."

But others said the torrent of newcomers helped preserve the town's status as a rebel colony--a small oasis of dynamism and diversity in an otherwise conservative state so homogeneous that it's 90% white and 70% Mormon. Lisa Cilva Ward, an ex-Californian who is co-editor of Park City magazine, said that instead of discussing whether to install new traffic lights, "you hear conversations like 'how do we broaden as a community?' "

Some broadening of a different sort clearly is in progress as development booms in an unincorporated area adjacent to Park City called Snyderville Basin. Although not within town limits, condominiums and "starter castles" alike in this basin enjoy a Park City postal address--giving them cachet along with strong property values.

The real Park City is small--just 7,400 year-round residents. Its civic anchor, Old Town, boasts a village quality. The two-story wooden houses look small. Inside, many have been elaborately redone, a reflection of just how chic the neighborhood has become.

Sybaritic pursuits abound. Listings for sports clubs and spas take up several pages in the local phone book. A chairlift for the Park City ski resort runs to the foot of Main Street.

But the rustic charm of Main Street, Old Town's major artery, is fading as New Age shops and funky stores are pushed out in favor of fur salons, real estate offices and pricey boutiques.

The biggest consequence of Park City's evolution, residents say, is that neighbors no longer know neighbors. Dell Fuller, an airline pilot who moved here 21 years ago from Los Angeles, said so many new people are moving in that these days, "almost nobody in Park City is from Park City."

Stirrings of change began in the late 1970s, when Salt Lake City developed as an aviation hub. Just 36 miles from the Salt Lake airport, Park City attracted so many airline staffers that the town came to be called a Delta ghetto. High-tech entrepreneurs chose Park City's emphasis on recreation over Salt Lake City's focus on religion. Ski bums just came for the snow.

One of them, Robert Redford, set up shop nearby in an area he named Sundance. Thousands of celebrities and film industry pilgrims annually converge on Park City for a festival started by Redford that brings the area millions of dollars in income and publicity.

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