DRAPER — The Utah State Prison won't have to pack its bags any time soon.
Relocating the prison's operations to another county will simply cost more than the state would gain from the sale and development of the 670 acres of land where the prison currently sits, according to a new study released Friday.
"We will not proceed with moving the prison based on costs. We said early on the numbers would drive this decision. And indeed the numbers have driven this decision," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said.
Huntsman came up with the idea last year during his campaign of relocating the state prison to a "more remote, acceptable" location and selling the site to developers. He said then a move "economically and socially made sense."
But that was before the study found that the state could lose as much as $372 million by building a new prison elsewhere. "It's a significant number," the governor said. "It made the decision pretty easy."
It comes as a relief for at least a few government entities, including the state Department of Corrections.
A relocation would have been a logistical nightmare for transporting inmates, but most employees likely would have had to pick up and move, said Chris Mitchell, corrections deputy director.
The 1,100 employees who run the 4,000-bed prison largely live along the Wasatch Front, and Mitchell said she was concerned a significant portion of the workforce wouldn't be able to commute — or even move — to a new facility. A new locale would need a sufficient population that could make up the difference for the employees who couldn't stay with the department, she said.
Not only that, corrections spokesman Jack Ford said, a move would likely mean the prison would lose some of its 1,200 volunteers who provide services such as teaching classes and providing guidance.
Matt Lawrence, Tooele County Commission chairman, said his county has been hoping the state wouldn't build a prison there. Huntsman has mentioned Tooele County as a potential site, and Juab and Box Elder counties were also seen as possibilities.
"It just doesn't fit in our county, and we just think there's other better places it could go," Lawrence said. "Tooele County is going in different directions now and we want to be selective with what type of things are going to be invited into our county in the future."
Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said he's not surprised.
"As far as I'm concerned, I have no big standing one way or another. If it had worked, that would have been good," he said.
Since June, Wikstrom Economic and Planning Consultants Inc. has been evaluating the prison, appraising the land it sits on and calculating what it would cost to build a prison elsewhere.
Wikstrom, owned by Karen Wikstrom, was paid $140,000 to conduct the feasibility study.
The firm provided a draft version of the feasibility study to the Department of Administrative Services, and the draft was released to the media Friday.
According to the study, it would cost the state $461 million to relocate the prison, which houses a wide range of offenders, from those who are about to be released to the nine men on death row.
The money it would cost to relocate the prison would not be recovered if the state were to sell the land and develop residential housing, which, according to the study, would be the most profitable use for the land.
The study found that the state would be able to recoup only $51 million to $93 million of that cost.
That was a shock to Draper's economic development manager, David Baird.
Baird did some calculations while Wikstrom was presenting the study and discovered the land the prison sits on was appraised to be about $2.50 per square foot.
He called that figure woefully short of what the city had assumed the land would be worth.
He said there are comparable lands within a half-mile of the prison that are appraised at $10 per square foot.
Baird asked Wikstrom why residential development would be the best use for the land. He believes office or commercial space would generate more money per foot and would provide sales tax revenues for Draper and the state.
Wikstrom said she is confident in her appraiser and felt Baird would agree with the figures after he gets to analyze the study. Smith said it would have been nice to have something else in the prison's spot.
"But as far as the prison being there, I've lived with it all my life, so it's just not an issue that I spent time with," he said. "I guess you have to look at the big picture as far as the whole state goes and not be selfish with it."
The study did identify a 300-acre plot of land belonging to the state that has been relatively unused by the prison. It sits west of the prison, and the study concludes that the state should retain and use the land for future development.
What that use will be remains open to the imagination right now, said D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, executive director of the Department of Administrative Services.
"We did the study to find out what the numbers were," Pignanelli said. "The dollars aren't there in the short term."
But she called the 300 acres next to the prison a golden opportunity to master plan the area and find a good use for it.
Huntsman said he was not disappointed by the results of the study. "I raised it as a public policy issue that needed to be addressed, knowing that all of the growth patterns were moving south," he said.
Still, the governor said the prison will need to be relocated — someday.
"At some point, we'll have to do something. But it's got to be based on economic reality," he said. "That may change 15 years from now, but as of today, and the foreseeable future, the numbers just don't make sense."
Prison study may be reviewed online
There will be an open house where the public can learn more about the study at Draper Elementary School, 1080 E. 12660 South in Draper on Nov. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche, Kerstin Swinyard, Doug Smeath