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PARK CITY IS PUSHING $2 BILLION

From its founding in the 1880s to its 1990s arrival as a seasonal hub for the jet set, this former mining town took more than 100 years to reach the $1 billion mark in property values.

It's required just a half-decade to almost double that."We anticipate being at the $2 billion mark within the next two years," City Manager Toby Ross said this week, acknowledging a boom that has seen the real estate market continue to surge in what has become an upscale resort community that is anything but a buyer's market anymore.

Property-value assessments - which are being adjusted upward across most of Utah to better reflect true market values - are barely catching up in Park City and the adjacent Snyderville Basin, but still show a staggering increase.

Park City proper today contains property worth $1.8 billion, up 80 percent over 1990, according to the latest government figures. Surrounding Summit County counts a total of another $1.56 billion in assessed values, up 50 percent from five years ago.

The figures are even more startling considering that in 1990 the area was already the highest-priced real-estate market in the state.

Why the continuing escalation?

"People have just discovered that Summit County is a nice place to live," said county assessor Barbara Kresser, who says a sign of the times is that a population explosion that started in Park City and the Snyderville Basin a few years ago has begun to spill over finally into other parts of the county in towns like Kamas and Wood-land.

Blake Frazier, the county auditor, said the property-value scales continue to tip heavily, however, toward the Park City School District, which includes Park City and numerous outlying communities such as Summit Park, Jeremy Ranch, Silver Creek and Snyder's Mill. Three-quarters of Summit County's assessed property values are within the school district.

An influx of out-of-staters has been largely to credit - or blame - for the boom.

"It was an exodus that was predicted," said Realtor Jess Reid, who said people continue to move to Park City from California and the northeastern United States "to escape gridlock, gangs, floods, pollution and all that."

But Reid said former residents of the Salt Lake Valley have for the same reasons taken to the mountains, too, opting to commute a usually easy half-hour from an alpine locale rather than fight traffic along the increasingly congested Wasatch Front.

"It's not just that there are people coming here (from other states) to relocate for lifestyle changes," agreed Ross. "A lot of people who hold managerial jobs in Salt Lake are pushing the prices up."

Summit County's year-round population has increased by 20 percent since 1990 - to almost 20,000 - most of it in and around Park City. Reid said half the home sales in the area today are to primary homeowners, rather than those buying vacation houses. And Ross said two-thirds of new construction is for those who plan to stay full time.

"We've become an affluent bedroom community (to Salt Lake)," said Reid.

Although the city is subsidizing the current construction of some 200 affordable housing units - ranging from rental condominiums to for-sale houses - most are spoken for.

And the non-subsidized market has little to offer middle-income buyers.

Ross said $200,000 today will get a small "fixer-upper" in historic Park City. Vic Ayers, another Park City Realtor, said it's all but impossible to find a house for less than that, noting that builders of a subdivision of duplexes that are still under construction at the foot of the Pinebrook area along I-15 are easily "pre-selling" 1,400-square-foot units for $189,000 apiece.