Video: Last guard tower at old Utah prison falls, clears way for a new future: The Point

Demolition is 90% complete, with the first buildings of a new “mini-city” expected to rise by 2025.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Heavy machinery knocks down a final guard tower at the old Utah State Prison in Draper on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

Draper • As it toppled over Wednesday, the last guard tower at the old Utah State Prison gave way to an ambitious future.

Demolition crews and public officials supporting The Point, the state-backed redevelopment of the former prison site into a green, vibrant and futuristic mini-city, watched nearby as the spindle-legged tower tumbled.

Much of the rest of the sprawling 72-year-old correctional facility in Draper has been leveled, with a total of 252 buildings demolished and harvested for thousands of tons of recyclable materials, much of it ground into piles of usable rubble.

Only the historic Chapel by the Wayside, built by inmates, still stands on the 600 or so acres of what was the main penitentiary campus — save for dozens of excavators and immense piles of crushed concrete and mulch from removed invasive trees.

The wrecking started last November, when crane crews pushed over the first prison tower, and is now 90% done. Caleb Townes, senior project manager for Bountiful’s Grant Mackay Demolition Co., said the choice property at Point of the Mountain will be scraped clean and ready for construction in a matter of months.

“On schedule,” Townes said, “and under budget.”

From prison to ‘pure opportunity’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Caleb Townes talks about the crushing facility used to recycle all concrete from the old prison buildings at the site of the old Utah State Prison in Draper on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

What’s ahead, meanwhile, will be among the largest public developments in state history, involving what officials say could bring in as much as $2.5 billion in private investment and 50,000 new jobs.

State leaders and Draper officials envision a new community the size of today’s Bluffdale, with a mix of open spaces and recreational trails, including a promenade and rejuvenation of the Jordan River, and a variety of housing types, office buildings, top-flight retail outlets and entertainment venues.

Plans gleaned after years of public input from thousands of Utahns also call for a focus on sustainability, creating centers of academic research and public gathering places, and shifting away from car use in favor of public transit, pedestrian paths and biking trails.

“This place,” said Draper Mayor Troy Walker, a longtime champion of The Point, “symbolizes pure opportunity.”

Buildings in the first 100-acre phase of The Point could start going up by 2025 after extensive work on new roads and utility lines, said Alan Matheson, executive director of The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, the state-appointed panel overseeing the project.

“We’ve made a commitment to people in the state to set a high bar,” Matheson said, “and we’re going to do that.”

Added Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan and co-chair of the land authority: “As you can see, decades-old razor wire and guard towers are virtually gone and a site that was previously isolated, closed and restricted will become open and accessible.”

Demolition on a massive scale

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The final guard tower at the old Utah State Prison after demolition crews toppled it over in Draper on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

The Utah Legislature voted in 2015 to close the storied prison and build a replacement facility in west Salt Lake City to open the prime Draper locale and surrounding lands for development.

That area around the Point of the Mountain, straddling southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County, is already one of the state’s fastest-growing and host to hundreds of technology companies that make up Utah’s Silicon Slopes.

Crews completed a new $1 billion, 1.3 million-square-foot Utah State Correctional Facility on the western edge of Salt Lake City in 2022, and more than 2,400 prison inmates were transported there last summer.

The ensuing demolition work has been staggering in its scale. Crews even built a temporary concrete crushing facility on-site to handle vast tonnages that went into building the prison when it moved to Draper from Sugar House in 1951.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Inside of the final guard tower at the old Utah State Prison after demolition crews toppled it over in Draper on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

More than 70% of the demolition debris from Utah State Prison has been recycled, yielding enough concrete diverted from landfills to lay foundations for 1,040 homes, enough steel to construct 66 four-story office buildings and enough asphalt to pave five miles of road.

Concrete crushing alone has eliminated an estimated 160,000 miles of truck transport, land authority officials said, lessening traffic, air pollution and road wear for the surrounding communities of Bluffdale, Riverton, South Jordan and Sandy.

Mounds of mulch from ground-up invasive trees, including a crop of Russian olives, have been used to mitigate dust.

And, yes, even steel and other materials from that last old-fashioned guard tower that glowered over the landscape before it fell Wednesday, after about 10 minutes of heavy prodding from a huge crane and an excavator, will be reused.