Keep an eye on The Point, the Editorial Board writes, so that it lives up to its promise

Another wave of ‘innovation” may or may not be the best use for the old state prison site

(Point of the Mountain State Land Authority) A rendering of another portion of The Promenade in The Point, a state redevelopment project in Draper. Plans call for an entertainment venue of up to 3,000 seats for concerts, sports and digital gaming events.

The more we hear about plans for The Point, the 600-acre multi-use, smart-growth, energy-efficient repurposing of the old Utah prison site in Draper, the more it sounds like Walt Disney’s original vision of EPCOT Center.

What today is a multicultural amusement park was originally, in Disney’s mind, supposed to mean Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was to be a vision of a futurist place for people to live, work and play with minimal auto traffic, plenty of open space, high-tech amenities, all dreamed up decades before anyone was all that worried about energy-efficiency or walkable communities.

It never quite worked out that way.

While the modern EPCOT is clearly a huge success as another of Orlando’s huge amusement parks, the idea of it as a city of the future turned out to be as much of a fantasy as many of Walt’s other visions.

Almost 60 years later and 2,300 miles to the west, the state of Utah has dreamed up The Point, its own vision of a live-work-play community that, its managers say, will set the standard for a sustainable, walkable, low-carbon, public transit-oriented, affordable community.

Its chances of success as envisioned? Better.

What will be necessary for that success? Unending transparency and oversight — by the Utah Legislature, the city of Draper, the news media and the public — to be sure what is being promoted as a public benefit stays that way.

What is heartening about the vision of The Point released over the last few weeks is that it has as its base a sense of responsibility to be a long-term boon for the area and for the state of Utah, environmentally and economically.

The state will retain ownership of most of the land underneath the planned office, commercial, recreation and innovation facilities, as well as the extensive open and common areas, trails, etc., entering into a clutch of 99-year leases with developers.

As owner and master planner, in theory, the state, through The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, will be there to make sure that any desire for short-term private profit never overpowers the long-view public interest.

That may come as a pleasant surprise to the many members of the public who, ever since leaders of the Utah Legislature started making plans to raze the state prison and redevelop the site nearly a decade ago, just assumed the whole idea was going to be nothing more than the latest means for well-connected developers to make bank on the backs of the taxpayer.

That is, after all, The Utah Way™.

Not only are the taxpayers not going to be left holding the bag for all this pavement and glass, leaders of The Point say, they are actually going to benefit many times over, not just by seeing sustainable development but through returns of up to 6-to-1 on state investments in the project.

Returns that can be put into more affordable housing, or other public needs.

There is also a scheme that will have private developers pay the equivalent of their property taxes to the city, county and school district, even though, as state-owned land, it technically won’t owe property tax.

Rather than be the vision of one person, The Point can claim to have been dreamed up by the people of Utah and of the rapidly growing area where Salt Lake County and Utah County come together. The development commission created by the Utah Legislature in 2016 — reformed into a land authority in 2018 — spent all the months since working through tons of public input to come up with principles and goals that are now to guide the development.

The vision is for a community where walking is easy, biking is encouraged, individual cars are unnecessary, housing is dense and, partly, affordable, public transit to and around the development is baked in and nobody is ever more than a few minutes from open space, a trail, a transit stop or an electric vehicle charging station.

So far, the state has committed to spending $165 million for government-style infrastructure — streets, utilities, etc. — while a consortium of developers are looking to bring a first wave of $2.3 billion in private money to the table for offices, stores, theaters, restaurants, hotels and a “Innovation District” that sees itself as an improved continuation of the valley’s high-tech Silicone Slopes culture.

The wobbly part of all that is the apparent assumption that high-tech office parks of the kind that have sprung up in northern Utah County in recent years are the inevitable wave of the future and that it’s just a matter of doing them smarter and cleaner.


Or maybe that market is already saturated. Maybe more speculative vaporware businesses are not such a smart investment, for the state or anyone else.

Maybe what this part of Utah needs most, far more than any more glass towers or business incubators, is way more housing, housing for anyone who isn’t in the market for a $2,500-a-month luxury flat with marble tiled kitchens.

The managers of The Point should be ready to pivot quickly if that proves to be the case.

No poaching the Jazz

One thing The Point should not be eager to do is to poach businesses and institutions from other parts of the Wasatch Front.

The most obvious example of that is the rumbling that the owners of the Utah Jazz professional basketball team might be looking to replace the 32-year-old Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City with a new venue, possibly at The Point.

Leaders of the development said they had some not-very-specific talks with Jazz management some months ago and that nothing seems to have come of it.

It should stay that way.

Professional sports belong in or near downtown. We’d include the North Temple corridor — possible home of a new Major League Baseball stadium, if that dream comes true — in that definition. But downtown Salt Lake is still the population and financial center of the valley, and cultural institutions such a big-time sports belong in that center.

No matter how wonderful The Point turns out to be.