Draper • It took some colossal pummeling and three hefty tugs from an excavator Tuesday to bring down the first guard tower at the now-empty Utah State Prison in what officials called a significant milestone.
More than 150 people gathered around the north end of the former penitentiary in Draper near the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility to watch the surveillance tower collapse, launching months of demolition work to clear the 600-acre site for development of a futuristic and green space-rich community to be named The Point, one of the largest public projects in Utah history.
Crews finished the new $1 billion, 1.3 million-square-foot Utah State Correctional Facility on the western edge of Salt Lake City earlier this year, and more than 2,400 inmates were transported there in July.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker said he had toiled for “14 years, 10 months and 29 days” to get the 71-year-old prison moved, and the three-term mayor was clearly high-spirited as he and others spoke ahead of the inaugural wrecking.
It was, Walker said, “like the sun rising.”
“I never felt that the prison was any kind of a blight on our city,” the mayor said. “But it’s certainly not the best use of this property. This is a window of opportunity opening.”
According to formal plans, The Point is envisioned as a regional model for mixing open space and recreational trails with housing, office buildings, retail outlets, enclaves of academic research and public gathering spots in a way that draws new residents to the region and fosters economic development and innovation.
State lawmakers voted in 2015 to close the storied penitentiary and build a replacement facility in Salt Lake City to open the choice Draper locale and surrounding lands for new construction — much to the chagrin of leaders in Utah’s capital at the time.
Adding ‘another must-see location’ in Utah
Alan Matheson, executive director of the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, told those assembled that The Point would symbolically “add another star to the constellation of must-see locations in the state” — for an attraction comparable, he said, to Temple Square, the state Capitol, its ski resorts or redrock country.
Matheson called the transition “a move from razor wire, surveillance and restrictions to a place that will be welcoming open and accessible, from a place that is isolated, cut off and fenced to being connected and an integral part of this region.”
The project also includes an environmental refresh for an adjacent stretch of the Jordan River.
Former Gov. Gary Herbert, who championed the prison move while in office, called it a “win-win” and praised state leaders for their foresight in approving the transition.
The speeches done, crews with Grant Mackay Demolition Co., based in West Bountiful, then drilled and bashed repeatedly at the base of the tower and yanked on it with an affixed cable twice without it budging as onlookers and dignitaries watched quietly.
Crews brought out a wrecking ball and eventually swung it into the tower’s supporting pillars enough times that the structure gave way on a third pull, hitting the ground in an empty parking lot with a reverberating thud that broke the tower’s roof away from the central column.
Brett Griffiths, an internal security guard at the new correctional facility in Salt Lake City, avidly took photos. He said his first assignment when he began work at the old penitentiary in 2018 was in that very same tower, working a solitary 12-hour shift monitoring the perimeter fences and enclosures.
“It’s a little sad,” Griffiths, a South Jordan resident, said of Tuesday’s razing, but he added the new penitentiary allowed for better and more humane treatment of inmates.
Preserving the prison chapel
The land authority voted in May to save the prison’s small 61-year-old Chapel by the Wayside, built by inmates and born of demands lodged during a 1957 prisoner riot for a proper place of worship and reflection.
The state also is preserving the prison’s antique central locking system, known as the Johnson bar. A relic of when the state lockup first operated in Sugar House, there is only one other like it in the country, at what remains of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in the San Francisco Bay.
The timeline for finishing the overall prison demolition is “a moving target,” according to Caleb Townes, project manager for Grant Mackay, but it is likely to stretch well into next year, with much of the debris slated for recycling.
The land authority selected a consortium of developers in July as its chief partner on an initial and central 78-acre phase of the state’s publicly vetted master plan for the site and negotiations are still underway on that. The team includes Lincoln Property Co., headquartered in Dallas; Colmena Group, based in Salt Lake City; and Wadsworth Development Group in Draper.
The authority, meanwhile, is set to release its most detailed plan to date for The Point by year’s end.
Patrick Hall, a Draper resident, brought his family out in wintry weather to watch Tuesday’s razing and said he was among those excited for what The Point will bring by way of more businesses, parks and regional trails.
“I’d rather see something new,” Hall said. “I’m a family man and for me it seems that in place of a prison, it’ll be a place where families can come.”