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Some residents apathetic about prison's site

The 700 acres the Utah State Prison sits on are valued at $8 to $10 per square foot, said Maridene Hancock, Draper city spokeswoman.
The 700 acres the Utah State Prison sits on are valued at $8 to $10 per square foot, said Maridene Hancock, Draper city spokeswoman.
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Draper officials and state entities alike have been drooling since Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. first proposed relocating the Utah State Prison and developing the land it currently occupies.

But, some residents say it doesn't matter whether the prison stays or goes.

Though it has been a fixture in the community, it hasn't played much of a role in community life for decades since local farmers used to use it as a supplemental source of income, said Draper City Mayor Darrell Smith.

Times change, Smith said. Right now it's appropriate for the governor and the state to be looking into how to best use the land.

The 700 acres the prison sits on are valued at $8 to $10 per square foot, said Maridene Hancock, Draper City spokeswoman. It's a potential economic gold mine for the city.

If the prison moves and developers turn the area into a commercial business area, Draper residents may actually have more opportunities for employment within their city, Hancock said.

Smith said he's anxious to see what the state decides. If the prison does leave Draper, the land will likely be used for more purposes than retail development because there is so much of it.

He said he favors the idea of Salt Lake Community College expanding their campus in that area.

"We're here to be a partner in all of that," Smith said. "We'd probably be more a partner in that than we are in the prison."

Currently only 29 of 1,150 prison employees live in Draper, but several more Draper residents are part of the 1,300 to 1,400 volunteers who assist with religion and education at the prison, Ford said.

Summer Pugh, a Draper resident, said she thinks volunteer service has benefited prisoners and volunteers alike.

Pugh said she's concerned that people have forgotten that "human side" in the debate over whether or not to move the prison.

"I think having it here has been good for our community to get involved and to help," she said. "I don't want to see it moved somewhere out in no man's land where no one will remember about it."

But, most residents she knows view the prison and the possibility of moving it with a good deal of apathy, she said. Those who do care are concerned that tearing down the prison and rebuilding a brand new facility elsewhere will cost a lot of money.

It's not clear how much of an input residents will have on the decision anyway, she said. There is an economic pull to move the prison and there are other city and state entities besides residents involved in making the decision.

Jack Ford, department of corrections spokesman, said he's sure there are people with no objection to the prison, including those employed by the prison, but he has heard grumbling.

Residents mostly complain that the prison doesn't generate any property-tax revenue for the city because it is state owned and run, Ford said.

"When South Mountain started to develop, people would call once a week and ask, 'How soon are you moving the prison?'" he said. "I'd say, 'Excuse me?' It's like the people that build under the approach to the airport and then expect the airport to move," Ford said.

People may be afraid that the prison will lessen the value of their million-dollar homes, Ford said, but safety shouldn't be a concern for residents.

"There is no crime here," he said. "We are the largest law-enforcement agency within the state without question. People who escape from here aren't going to be hanging around."

And few if any former inmates stay in Draper to work or live, Ford said.

Bill Colbert, a city council member who has been a Draper resident for nine years, said the prison has always been a good neighbor.

For the most part, people don't even think about the prison's presence.

Colbert said he thinks there are better uses for the land and most residents are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of it being developed. The land offers a lot of opportunity to the state and city for mixed-use development that will add to Draper's prosperity.

He said he expects the prison to relocate as soon as the state and city determine it is economically viable to proceed.

"It's a matter of when — not if — the prison will move," Colbert said. "The land is just ultimately too valuable."