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Utah State Prison

Published December 19, 2012 1:01 am

Be skeptical of relocation scheme
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If someone talked you into an investment that cost you upwards of $400 million, and left you short by more than $300 million of that, then that person's next address might be at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

Unless, of course, the Utah Legislature goes along with a plan to tear down that facility, sell the land and create a new lock-up somewhere further off the beaten path.

It is an idea that deserves to be greeted with a great deal of skepticism, a lot of questions and some sharp pencils.

The state's Prison Relocation Authority Committee Monday recommended the active pursuit of a plan to sell the site of the existing prison — 700 acres at the Point of the Mountain in Draper — and build a whole new one, probably in Tooele, Juab or Box Elder county.

In so doing, the committee basically brushed aside a 2005 review of the same question, which calculated the value of the land under the current prison at some $93 million, if it were sold for 700 acres worth of new housing developments, while the cost of building a new prison would be somewhere between $417 million and $475 million.

The committee thinks the idea might now be worth pursuing because some experts — including some who want to sell their services as builders or operators of a new prison — claim that a 21st century penitentiary would offer so many new efficiencies as to make it worth the taxpayers' while.

Maybe. Maybe there are just a lot of people in the real estate business — the day job for a significant number of Utah lawmakers — salivating over the prospect of buying, selling, subdividing and reselling a lot of land in a part of the state that is already growing rapidly. And maybe our lawmakers, always eager to provide government services on the cheap, are just looking for an excuse to try to run a prison with fewer guards, fewer services and less visibility.

There is no question that the land would be very attractive to developers. That neck of the woods has already attracted such high-profile companies as eBay and Adobe, and so could be expected to draw similar outfits and their vendors, as well as residential developments for those who will be working for those operations. That would put a lot of land, some of it high-value, on the tax rolls.

But it would also create a demand for increased government services, from roads to schools to public safety. And it would contribute to the already vexing woes of urban sprawl that include traffic jams and air pollution.

As the Legislature considers this plan, it must be sure to factor in all the hidden and possible costs, and coldly evaluate all the optimistic promises.