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Proposed Bluffdale development

Utah town plans to capitalize on NSA’s data center

Data center could give city a boost by luring businesses and development to area.

First Published Nov 03 2013 04:29 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:37 pm

Bluffdale • About three miles south of the corner of Porter Rockwell Boulevard and Redwood Road, the Utah Data Center, the National Security Agency’s massive new digital warehouse, sits behind chain-link fences in a remote, isolated area.

But on a chilly Tuesday morning recently, Bluffdale City Manager Mark Reid and Economic Development Director Grant Crowell stood at the intersection and looked east, across an old cow pasture with a row of trees whose leaves had turned brown and gold. If they have their way, the sagebrush and dry cow pies will be transformed with a new road and lots of businesses, and it will be in large part because of the Utah Data Center.

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The $1.5 billion construction of the data center required a new water line Bluffdale can use to encourage businesses to locate on what Reid and Crowell hope will one day be a 270-acre development.

The Utah Data Center itself might attract government contractors who will want to set up shop in that development, Reid and Crowell hope, along with private data centers whose owners decide to follow the NSA’s example and build where electricity is cheap and skilled workers are available.

"Other data centers will recognize why [the NSA] came to Utah," Reid said.

Gary McDougal, a Realtor who is part owner of an 80-acre parcel already designated for part of the development, says there have been inquiries from private data centers wanting to locate in the area. First, however, McDougal and his partners have plans to build 17 houses on the property as an extension to an existing neighborhood. Talks also are advancing with a gas station and a fast-food restaurant that want to move into the area, McDougal said, and there is acreage designated for a big-box grocery store.

McDougal says the plan to extend Porter Rockwell from the Mountain View Corridor east to Interstate 15 is what will make the area attractive to businesses and developers. When the road is extended, it will link the western and central arteries in Salt Lake and Utah counties, crossing Redwood Road, and there are expectations it will make the area one of the most trafficked in the state.

"I don’t know where else you’d get three major collectors in one spot like that," McDougal said.

The plan to extend Porter Rockwell has been in the works since at least 2002 — about three years before the NSA considered putting a data center here ­— when Bluffdale looked at the feasibility of creating a new east-west artery, Reid said. But the Utah Data Center construction brought benefits that weren’t in the plans.

The data center required Bluffdale to extend water utilities through the proposed development zone. Electricity, sewer and fiber optics were already there.

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"The area south of Porter Rockwell Boulevard became developable because of the data center," Reid said.

But Bluffdale needs help. The city wants more state or federal funding for the Porter Rockwell extension. About $8 million has already been acquired to plan, buy property and for some construction, but about $37 million more will be needed for the 4-mile extension that will be five to seven lanes and include a bridge crossing the Jordan River. Reid hopes the project can be completed in eight years.

When the extension is built, businesses should find the area more attractive, Reid and Crowell believe. They said Salt Lake County and the Jordan School District have already given initial agreements to provide tax incentives for companies to move to the area.

Without such incentives, Reid said, officials in Utah County, which sits about two miles south of the area eyed, could try to lure businesses there.

While the houses and maybe some apartments will be part of the development, Reid and Crowell want jobs to be the focus. Bluffdale, population 8,000, already has lots of housing options, Reid says, but city leaders don’t want it to just be a bedroom community.

Crowell sees the city joining the high-tech hub in southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties.

"Bluffdale is on the map," Crowell said. "I believe people know what’s going on, and we’re part of the regional conversation now."

At the same time, some Bluffdale residents don’t want too much change. Holly Naylor, 34, her husband and their four children live in a neighborhood adjacent to the area targeted for development. She doesn’t have an opinion on the Utah Data Center and is thinking more about the growth the area could see in the coming years.

Naylor has no problem with the 17 houses that will be built at the end of her street and knows Bluffdale needs a grocery store so she and neighbors don’t have to drive out of town to shop. But she doesn’t want much more shopping and development.

"We here in Bluffdale," she said, "kind of want to be left alone."

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