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Former Senate leader pushing guv on prison move

Published February 9, 2011 6:43 pm

Corrections • Supporters say a relocation would be a big boon to economic development in the south end of the valley.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A former Senate president and a lobbyist for the Salt Lake Chamber are pushing for the state to relocate its Draper prison and open up 670 acres of prime Salt Lake County real estate.

Former Sen. Al Mansell, a prominent real-estate agent and former president of the National Association of Realtors, has met with Gov. Gary Herbert, legislative leaders and Draper city officials to make his pitch.

Mansell said Tuesday that he and Robin Riggs, the Salt Lake Chamber's government-affairs director, urged Herbert to take the lead and issue a request for information to see who might have the best ideas for relocating the prison or developing the land.

"We just think they've got to do something, and we've been encouraging the Legislature and the governor to start the process," Mansell said Tuesday evening. Once that happens, "We'll be ready to propose some solutions and ideas. Until then, we're really not sharing very much at all."

Draper City Councilman Troy Walker, who has met with Mansell and Riggs twice about their proposal and is scheduled to meet with them again Wednesday, said the city is eager to get the prison moved.

"They haven't discussed the secret sauce in any way," he said. "What they've basically said to us is, 'Look, we've got a proposal we want to run. We think we can do it.' It seems to me that what they have thought through more than [others] is they have some plan about how to get a new prison built."

Walker said the council originally had heard that Mansell was looking for a special taxing district, like the Military Installation Development Authority used to spur development near Hill Air Force Base. That could have cut the city out of planning decisions and tax revenue, but Walker said Mansell assured him that wasn't what they wanted, and Mansell reiterated that to The Tribune.

"They want to get the Governor's Office to get it out there and have a 30-day window of time to get [the Request for Information] out there and get it going," Walker said. "I'm excited. If it really has traction, it would be a dream come true for us, as long as the process is fair and open and we've got our rights as a city."

Draper officials have long supported relocating the prison, which was built on a fairly remote, undeveloped stretch of land in the 1950s but now sits amid an exploding mix of retail development, making it an attractive target in the burgeoning south end of Salt Lake County.

"It needs to happen," Mansell said. "Even if we're successful, I'm not a big player in it — the biggest interest I have is I believe the Point of the Mountain is far more valuable to the state as an economic driver than anybody has looked at."

Last month, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, revived the idea of relocating the prison and its roughly 4,500 inmates, a proposal that first gained traction when he was chief of staff for former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.

But a study of the idea completed in 2005 estimated that it would cost $471 million to relocate the prison and that the 670 acres on which it sits was worth only up to $93 million, meaning the state would lose $378 million on the deal. Real-estate values have generally declined in the ensuing years.

Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said last month costs remain an obstacle.

"Governor Herbert feels moving the prison may be a good idea, as it's not the optimal use for that site, but he questions whether it is a feasible idea," she said. "He is uncertain about the costs affiliated with relocation and transition."

Reached Tuesday night, she said she didn't have any information about Mansell's plan.

Herbert is a former president of the Utah Association of Realtors.

Mansell said he anticipates that, at some point, the Legislature will have to sign off on the decision to relocate the prison since it is such a massive project, but right now, Herbert can get things started.

"This is like a big bus. There's going to have to be a lot of people on it, and the governor is at the steering wheel," he said.

Mansell was appointed to the Utah Senate in 1994 and served as Senate president from 2001 to 2005. He resigned from the body in 2006. He has also served as president of the National Association of Realtors.

He spent three years as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Washington, D.C., mission, returning to Utah in July.

Riggs has been executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber since 2003 and is also the chamber's general counsel. He also lobbies for other clients, including ATK. Before that, he was Utah president of telecommunications company Qwest and was general counsel to then-Gov. Mike Leavitt. —

Prison relocation study

"The information … indicates that the substantial costs of relocating the Draper facilities — about $461 million — are not recoverable through the sale of the roughly 670 acres of land that the state of Utah could dispose of upon the prison's closure and relocation. The additional benefits of returning the land to private development and 'back onto the tax rolls' will not be sufficient to close the gap. Appraised value ranges from $51 million to $93 million."

Source » 2005 draft report compiled by Wikstrom Economic & Planning Consultants