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Utah House panel OKs new authority over Point of Mountain land sale

The Utah State Prison and surrounding development is shown near the point of the mountain on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
FILE - The Utah State Prison and surrounding development is shown near the point of the mountain on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill creating a new entity with the power to sell the 700-acre site at Point of the Mountain in Draper once the Utah State Prison is moved was endorsed Monday by a House committee.

The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority would "plan, manage and implement the development" of the site, expected to be vacated in 2021, once the new prison under construction west of the Salt Lake City International Airport is completed.

The state is "getting closer to that time," the sponsor of HB372, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, told the House Government Operations Committee. Snow is the co-chairman of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.

That commission is winding up a study of how the prison move impacts high-tech development in the area from Sandy to Lehi that includes signficant recommendations, Snow said.

Those include creating a legal entity "to begin the tough work," testified Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, the nonprofit planning organization hired to coordinate the commission's outreach and research work.

"I cannot overstate the complexity," Grow said of an effort that could add 150,000 high-tech innovation jobs throughout the Wasatch Front, including 50,000 on what will be the former prison site, "if we do this right as a state."

He said the prison site, equal to 70 downtown Salt Lake City blocks, will serve as a catalyst of the development. Snow said the bill spells out the need to attract a nationally recognized research center.

Ben Hart, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, backed the bill as necessary to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the property.

"We have to be able to move at the speed of business," Hart said.

Snow said the 11-member authority board would be made up of four lawmakers, four appointments by the governor, one each by Draper and Salt Lake City, and one by higher education.

He said the bill attempts to avoid conflicts of interest by board members, including by limiting property ownership by them and their family members within 5 miles of the site.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, questioned the amount of power the authority board would have, including to sell the 700-acre site.

"I just want to be clear we’re giving this board fairly broad authority to act on our behalf," Thurston said. "We're putting a lot of trust in them."

While Snow said the land board would have the ability to sell the site, he pointed out there are restrictions in the bill about what happens to the property. The alternative, he said, would be to leave the sale up to the executive branch.

"Somebody needs that authority," Snow said. He said he has "a great deal of confidence" with four lawmakers serving on the board.

He said lawmakers promised Utahns that when the prison was moved, the site "would be developed in such a way to create sustained, long-term economic growth. I believe we have tried to find the right balance here."

The new authority's first report to lawmakers would be in November, Snow said. He said the nearly $11,000 price tag on the bill likely will have to be updated to cover the cost of consultants and other assistance.

The bill now goes before the full House.