Home » WALL STREET JOURNAL| The Town Stays in the Picture As Sundance Kicks Off

WALL STREET JOURNAL| The Town Stays in the Picture As Sundance Kicks Off

[Wall Street Journal – January 17th, 2014] Park City, Utah, has managed to maintain its low-glitz, down-to-earth image despite all the celebrities who own homes there—from Johnny Carson in the 1970s to Will Smith, Katherine Heigl and Jeffrey Katzenberg today.

It’s still possible to remain anonymous in the ski-resort town, celebrities say. Former ABC anchor Charles Gibson bought his first home in Park City in 1987, the same year he signed on to host “Good Morning America,” and then built a bigger house in the mid-1990s that is visible from one of the Deer Valley ski lifts. Riding up the lift one day, Mr. Gibson says, a man sitting next to him pointed at his house and told him that Bryant Gumbel lived there.

But it is Park City—not Aspen—where the glitterati will descend this weekend for the annual two-week Sundance Film Festival. The cons are packed restaurants, an army of paparazzi and lots of what locals call PIBs (People in Black). Local real-estate agents see one huge pro: The influx of thousands of nonresidents is a perfect opportunity for them to lure in potential buyers—especially those looking for an un-Hollywood escape.

“I love Sundance. I have sold so many homes through Sundance. At least one person will fall in love with Park City. They may not buy that week but they come back,” says Paul Benson, an agent at Summit Sotheby’s International Realty, who sold three homes for a total of $27 million last year to people exposed to Park City through Sundance. Mr. Benson says the potential buyers aren’t just in the entertainment industry; they are also the investors and the corporate sponsors. He hosts dinners and events to get to know them.

Easy access helps make Park City—population 7,500 in the town proper—attractive to people from Los Angeles. Direct flights from LAX or Burbank to Salt Lake City take less than two hours, with a 40-minute drive to town.

Second homes account for some 70% of the current real-estate market in the Park City area, up 7% since 2002, according to the city’s department of economic development. Prices, which took a dip in 2008, also are moving higher. In 2013, the average price for a single family home was $929,000, up about 6% from a year earlier but still below its peak in 2007 of $1.1 million. The number of homes and condos grew 20% in 2013, to 2,200, from a year earlier and the dollar volume was up 23% to $1.5 billion from 2012. There were 34 homes sold last year priced over $4 million, up 40% from the number in that price range in 2012. More people are building new homes too: The number of building permits for new single family homes was up 50% in 2013 to 34 permits from 20 in 2012.

The most expensive home on the market in Park City now [listed by Paul Benson of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty]  according to Zillow, is a $44 million, 12-bedroom, 16-bathroom, 22,000-square-foot estate on 60 acres in upper Deer Valley. In Aspen, it is a $45 million, seven-bedroom, 11-bathroom, 18,750-square-foot house on three-quarters of an acre. Park City has four homes priced above $20 million now while Aspen has 14 homes above that level.

A $44 million house would have been unthinkable in the 1960s, a time when the town was officially registered as a ghost town after silver mining operations went bust and before it became a ski destination. When Edgar Stern, the late Sears, Roebuck heir and developer (he died in 2008), opened a new resort called Deer Valley in 1981, he was still living and hobnobbing with celebrities in Aspen. He wanted to instill in his company in Utah the same management philosophy that had prevailed at Sears: Taking care of the employees was integral to providing good service, says his son Lessing Stern, chairman of the board of Deer Valley’s parent company Royal Street Corp. “He created a culture that was very staff oriented and that permeated the Park City community.”

Park City has made a deliberate effort to keep that working-class ethos. It is a balance between ensuring the town doesn’t become so expensive that it is unobtainable to the average employee, and so overdeveloped that it loses its charm. The city has more than 400 units of deed-restricted affordable rental and ownership housing. When the five-star Montage resort was built, an additional 2,800 acres of open space was annexed to Park City to offset its density and the land was put into a conservation easement. “The guy who owns a $10 million house can be friends with the chairlift operator,” says Dana Williams, the city’s former three-term mayor who doubled as a barista in a coffee shop while in office and played in a local band, Motherlode. His father moved to Park City from Hollywood, where he sold insurance to the movie industry, in the 1970s.

Source: Wall Street Journal 

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