Housing, trails and retail: Backers of The Point aim to pack a lot into 600 acres

The mixed-use community, planned for the old Utah State Prison site, is being touted as the future of development in Utah: ‘Gone are the days when you’re building half-acre houses.’

(Point of the Mountain State Land Authority) A rendering of an aerial view of The Point, a public redevelopment project at the site of the now-demolished Utah State Prison in Draper.

The people behind The Point — the 600-acre development coming together on the former Utah State Prison site in Draper — are presenting their vision for the project, and it’s a little bit of everything.

The project — which is slated to start its first phase, laying in key infrastructure and amenities, in the spring — promises to feature an “innovation hub” in the heart of Silicon Slopes, a new “downtown” with local businesses and entertainment venues, housing at affordable prices, and robust public transit and trails for walking and cycling that could make cars extraneous.

The Point is one of a handful of new micro-communities that have been built or are in the works along the Wasatch Front that boast higher-density housing and public amenities. South Jordan’s Daybreak is a tightly-packed community of town homes, single-family houses and apartments set among public parks, retail and entertainment and 10 miles of public trails, according to its website. Utah City, a 700-acre development in Vineyard in Utah County, promises to “prioritize walkability and wellness.”

What makes The Point unique, representatives say, is that it will be built on state-owned land and is therefore a public good, based on public input. And it encourages the kind of growth Utah, the nation’s fastest-growing state, can sustain.

“We feel, as a state project, that we’ve got an obligation to show how we can develop more thoughtfully,” Alan Matheson, executive director of The Point, told The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board in a recent briefing. “We’re not going to stop growth; but we can develop in ways that preserve the quality of life that we have.”

The right balance

State leaders say The Point’s promises are based on years of public comment from Utah residents, collected at public meetings, open houses and a survey of 615 people in southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties. The legislation that created the Point of the Mountain State Land Use Authority (POMSLA) and set the project in motion was based on a years-long study of the area, said board co-chair Lowry Snow, who claims credit for drafting that legislation when he was a member of the Utah House of Representatives.

“The final report contains what we call 12 signature elements,” Snow said Wednesday. “I focused on all of those points to the extent that we could in this project. And why did we do that? Because those 12 points all came from the public.”

The project is “a lot to ask of a 600-acre site,” Matheson said.

“We’ve been tasked with accomplishing a number of above-market things at this site,” he said. They include more transportation, higher-quality amenities, more open space and a focus on sustainability, he said.

Of the first phase’s 3,300 new housing units, around 400, or 12.5%, will be designated “affordable” housing, priced for people who make 60-80% of the area’s median income. Developers have promised sustainable design, including energy-efficient buildings and drought-tolerant landscaping. Officials have promised a new FrontRunner station will be built on the site, which would provide a 15-minute train ride to-and-from Salt Lake City, reducing traffic impacts.

“We’re trying to find the right balance among all of those very critical issues,” Matheson said. “And we think we’ve done a really good job of finding a good balance there.”

Respondents to The Point’s online survey overwhelmingly preferred recreational trails to traditional neighborhood parks; they also wanted green streets and car-free pedestrian zones.

“We will be creating the value all around because of the amenities we’re putting into it,” said lead architect Craig Lewis. “This is very much a public project, as if you were in any other downtown walking on the streets, hiking on the trails, relaxing on the central green.”

Public commenters and survey respondents also favored the most dense downtown layout. Later stages of The Point will include single-family homes, but most of the housing options will be tightly concentrated in the central downtown area.

“Gone are the days when you’re building half-acre houses,” said Troy Walker, the mayor of Draper City.

Walker said he is especially excited about the proposed trails and open spaces — especially the “river to range” trail, which will connect the Jordan River to the Wasatch Mountains at Corner Canyon. Residents, visitors and people who work in The Point will benefit from urban amenities, Walker said, without sacrificing access to the outdoors.

“We see that as a connection to the future of what it really means to live in Utah,” he said.

An economic investment

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Aerial view of the former site of the old Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023.

The state of Utah owns the 600-acre plot of land that once housed its prison. That won’t change any time soon, said board co-chair and Jordan Teuscher, a state legislator representing South Jordan. Innovation Point Partners, the consortium of companies chosen to develop the point, has a 99-year ground lease on the land.

Later stages of The Point will include single-family homes that the state and developers will sell outright, land included — but otherwise the state will retain ownership of the land. After 99 years, ownership of the buildings will also transfer to the state, Teuscher said

The deal takes the cost of land out of the equation for developers, officials said, but allows the state to maximize on its investment. The Utah Legislature has allocated $165 million for infrastructure, and developers are expecting to bring in at least $2.3 billion in investments. Teuscher said the return on investment could be as high as six-to-one.

“And that’s not counting all the additional economic multipliers, the land value increases, the jobs and other things that will come because of the development that we’re doing here,” he said.

Point officials also pointed to a housing trust fund, which will help build affordable housing in The Point and surrounding areas. The fund will pull from hotel revenues from guests who visit The Point.

It’s unusual to build a development from the inside out, but that’s what developers will do here. The Point’s first phase will include the Innovation Alley, a hub for Utah researchers, the Promenade, Central Green, River to Range trail, and such urban amenities as entertainment venues and eateries.

Phase one development will also lay down “critical backbone infrastructure” for the site’s remaining 500 acres, according to The Point website, including water, sewage, gas and telecommunications.

“We felt it really important that we start with the heart of what this project is, and so that’s where the infrastructure is going in,” Teuscher said.

Shannon Sollitt is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.