Utah gets to ‘The Point’ about remaking old prison site

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Utah State Prison in Draper, as seen in 2017.

Draper • Utah sent out another gigantic ping Monday to anyone interested in what may be its choicest piece of available real estate ever.

Planned for future development: One contiguous 700-acre chunk beneath the state prison along Interstate 15 on the way through the heart of the state’s tech corridor.

Ideas welcome, especially big ones. Think New Deal-style projects with a high-tech vibe, designed to create jobs, improve quality of life, and spur recovery through a post-pandemic age.

Most know the Point of the Mountain as part of the bland asphalt and concrete transition between Salt Lake and Utah counties, where commuter traffic gets hilly and windy. Or its name is used as a nickname for the Utah State Prison in Draper, the state’s main correctional facility.

But the area shall now be called “The Point,” officials said Monday as they launched a new planning effort for how to develop the site.

To state and city leaders, the publicly owned property now under blazing night lights and razor wire is to be developed as “a blank slate” once the prison moves northwest of Salt Lake City, where construction of a new modern lockup is well underway.

And that redo is creating what may be the greatest public economic-development venture in state history. A study that looked at The Point and the surrounding 20,000 acres concluded the land could create up to 150,000 high-paying jobs and up to $9.1 billion in new sales and income tax revenues by 2050.

“There is nothing like this in the country in terms of an opportunity going forward and maybe in the world,” said state Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, who heads a state panel guiding the project.

After exhaustive planning and debate and a framework for development issued from Utah’s Capitol Hill, officials are launching a new push for awareness about The Point — all backed by a new and concerted public information campaign.

Residents are being encouraged to “Make Their Point” about the land by voicing their opinions, through an online survey.

Between now and January, officials backing The Point seek to hire experts to help write the master plan for the land. That blueprint will start to ink where homes, offices, roads, transit lines and commercial centers will be built and where to leave green spaces when the old prison is torn down in 2022 and development on the 700 acres starts.

Since planning for the site started around 2015, the area has been envisioned as a high-rise urban center focused on research. Or as a kayak park laced with wide swaths of open spaces and trails. Or swarming with flying cars. Or even as home to a new National Football League team and stadium.

The emerging consensus now is a mix of housing, commercial and transportation-centered development, making it a model for other projects. So as of Monday, the state is seeking more public input, with many questions on this particular Point remaining open, such as who will develop the land? What role will Utah’s colleges, universities and tech and life-science sectors play? Where will new transit lines and highways be built? And what special role, if any, will Draper, the host city, have in all of this?

“I believe it is not only my city’s future, but the future of the state and certainly Salt Lake County and northern Utah County,” Draper Mayor Troy Walker said.

“Also, this is an opportunity to do something technologically important,” said Walker. “You saw the flying cars. Now we’re serious about that.”

According to Alan Matheson, the executive director of Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, the state will line up interested parties and financial commitments toward what is shaping up as a multibillion-dollar public works project — precisely at a time when Utah is looking for such large-scale projects to spur an economic recovery.

“This started as a complicated project, and it got a little more so” with COVID-19, Matheson said. “Nobody knows exactly what the future holds, so in planning you want to build in flexibility so that we can respond to changes in the market, changes in technologies, changes in public attitudes, etc.”

Since it was built to replace Sugar House Prison in 1951, the gray and blocky Utah State Prison has remained something of an island while 70 years of urban development has sprouted up around it — including the string of technology companies headquartered along what’s become known as Utah’s Silicon Slopes.

The area is also perched between the Wasatch Front’s two most populous counties and within commuting distance of where most of new suburban residents have landed in recent decades. The rapid development in nearby communities has made The Point its own geographic pinch point over the years, troubled by congestion and a lack of public spending on east-west commuter routes.

Its proponents are promising to take a transit-heavy approach to any new development, with lots of ways to get around, and a strategy to locate jobs close to homes to improve traffic and air quality.