Alan Matheson will leave Utah’s DEQ to oversee development of the Draper prison site

Utah’s Point of the Mountain Authority Board has hired a member of Gov. Gary Herbert’s Cabinet for a major role in what one official called “one of the largest economic development opportunities in our state’s history.”

The 10-member panel voted unanimously late Tuesday to offer the job of executive director to Alan Matheson, who is now the executive director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). After two days of negotiations, he accepted the job Thursday and will assume the post July 1.

Matheson has headed the state DEQ, an agency with nearly 390 employees and a yearly budget of about $56 million, since June 2015 and has served as Herbert’s senior environmental adviser since October 2011.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alan Matheson, executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality, as seen in 2017. Matheson, 57, will become the executive director of the Point of the Mountain Authority Board, overseeing planning and development of 700 acres of choice real estate near Draper that will be vacated over the next two years when Utah State Prison is relocated west of Salt Lake City International Airport.

In a statement, Herbert called Matheson “an invaluable asset” to his administration.

“I have appreciated his firm focus on improving our air quality, as well as all aspects of the environment," the Republican governor said. "He has been and will continue to be a trusted adviser, and I wish him all the best as he accepts this new position guiding important land development projects at the Point of the Mountain.”

The job will make Matheson, 57, a key overseer of development of nearly 700 acres of prime real estate set to open up when the Utah State Prison is relocated from Draper to a site west of the Salt Lake City International Airport, which officials say is likely to happen in the next three years.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who also is co-chairman of the Point of the Mountain Authority Board, said Matheson’s hiring comes “at a decisive moment in Utah’s history. Wise planning will make all the difference in helping us build the future we want for our kids and our grandkids.”

Cox, who on Tuesday announced his candidacy for Utah governor in 2020, said in a statement he was “grateful to have found an invested, experienced leader to guide the Point of the Mountain Authority Board through this crucial phase of investment and development.”

Board Co-chairman and state Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, called Matheson an “excellent candidate” and said that his resume, wealth of experience and focus on strategic planning for the prison site made him the top choice.

Among other relevant skills, Matheson is trained as a lawyer and has a background in land-use planning, having overseen the Envision Utah regional planning agency before joining state government in 2011.

He led the development of a 2013 vision of outdoor recreation in Utah that eventually spurred creation of the country’s first state Office of Outdoor Recreation. And at DEQ, Matheson has been the state’s point person on high-profile environmental issues, including efforts to improve air quality.

Matheson also headed a four-year process to craft the state’s latest 50-year water use strategy, released in 2017.

In an email sent Thursday to DEQ staffers announcing the move, Matheson said he hoped “to create something truly outstanding in this important part of our region. We want to make this area an international model for solving thorny problems in a way that is visionary, practical, inclusive and transparent.”

“Working with all of you to protect public health and Utah’s environment has been an unparalleled professional honor,” Matheson wrote.

The Point of the Mountain Authority Board has been assigned by the Utah Legislature to plan for what comes after the prison moves as well as direct development of the vacated acreage in the midst of Utah’s Silicon Slopes at the south end of Salt Lake County.

Cox has called the executive director’s position “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He said Tuesday the board would negotiate with state lawmakers on a final salary for the job.

Kirsten Rappleye, Cox’s chief of staff, said the board received 69 applications for the position as part of a national search conducted by Herbert’s Office of Economic Development, with a short list of eight candidates interviewed by members of the board earlier this year.

Matheson and runner-up Muriel Xochimitl, founder and president of X-Factor Strategic Communications, an Eagle Mountain communications firm, were then interviewed by the full board Tuesday in closed sessions.

In the job, Matheson will develop a strategy for use and sale of the land, which will open up at a time when undeveloped acreage in Utah’s most populous county is at a premium and the area is growing rapidly.

Snow has said that with the position filled, the board would seek broad public input, particularly from residents in Draper and surrounding communities, on developing the prison property.

State officials involved in the prison move have consulted Envision Utah in past years to garner input from city governments in southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties potentially affected by the Point of the Mountain development.

Matheson also has a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and a law degree from UCLA’s law school.