DRAPER — While work is underway on a new prison just west of Salt Lake City, state and local officials are gearing up to make appointments to a freshly created board that will oversee how the current Draper prison site is redeveloped after its tenants move out in 2021.
The 11-member Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, created by Utah lawmakers via HB372 in the last session, will have broad authority to oversee and manage how the 700-acre property is transformed.
The state will retain a supermajority on the board, with the governor and legislative leaders controlling eight of the 11 appointments. The remaining three seats will be occupied by one appointee each from Draper and Salt Lake County, with the final opening to be filled by the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, or their designee.
Paul Edwards, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, said the distribution of decision-making power on the panel is appropriate for overseeing the state-owned property.
"Because the land is owned by the state and because of its importance to the economic vibrancy of the state, we are comfortable with the state playing a large role in the build-out of this particular parcel," Edwards said in a prepared statement.
HB372 also contained lengthy and detailed language aimed at precluding any conflict of interest issues. Those stipulations include banning from the board anyone who owns property, besides a residence, within 5 miles of the site, as well as those who have family members with property, besides a residence, within a half-mile of the site. Also, anyone who is individually, or through a family member, connected to businesses that could be involved with redevelopment activities are also prohibited from accepting an appointment to the authority board.
Just to ensure there are no post-appointment misunderstandings, appointees will be required to submit an affidavit acknowledging the rules and confirming their lack of conflicts before being seated.
Currently, the prison houses about 4,000 male and female inmates in facilities that range from minimum security to "supermax." At the time it was constructed, in the middle of the last century, the prison was isolated from the Wasatch Front population centers but has since become surrounded by residential and commercial development.
The nearby area has also become a hot spot for the state's growing tech sector and, in 2015, state lawmakers chose a site for a new facility and slated the current site for redevelopment upon the old prison's closure.
The site is widely seen as a unique economic development opportunity, both because of the size of the property and its location. Envisioning best uses for the property has been part of the work undertaken by the Legislature-created Point of the Mountain Development Commission, an effort launched about 18 months ago. In January, the group released a set of schematics for over 20,000 acres of undeveloped property in southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County. The commission's "preferred scenarios" included a rough plan of how to reutilize the prison land.
Edwards said the project could become an economic driver for the whole region.
"The state property at the Point of the Mountain that currently houses the state prison presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an economic development engine for Utah," Edwards said. "Because of its strategic location in the heart of Silicon Slopes, how it is developed matters to the entire state. We believe that, done right, it has the potential to catalyze additional investment in high-skilled, high-paying jobs throughout the region."
The current planning scenario calls for a mix of residential, office, retail and light-industrial uses as well as robust, new public transit connections including light rail and bus rapid transit. The hoped-for anchor for the site would be a world-class research/educational facility that, according to the January report released by the development commission, could become a magnet for talent and further investment.
"A nationally recognized research presence creates a 'wow' factor that attracts employers and employees and contains open space that is appealing and important to residents," the report says. "Research and technology transfer also boosts job growth, as does the skilled workforce that is trained there."
Draper Mayor Troy Walker, who has been closely involved with the development commission work as a member of its board and will also hold a seat on the new land authority, said he's very happy with the preliminary vision for the prison site revamp.
"It's been my goal throughout this process to redevelop this property to its highest and best use," Walker said. "The commission has been doing very valuable, and very good work to get us to this point."
Even though local entities will only hold two votes on the panel, both Walker and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said they were comfortable with the distribution of appointments. McAdams is obligated to appoint an "elected Salt Lake County government official," while Herbert has two defined appointments — one representative each from the state's Division of Facilities and Construction Management and the Governor's Office of Economic Development — and two discretionary appointments.
Edwards said the governor will be seeking candidates who understand and embrace the opportunity to redevelop the prison site as an economic catalyst.
"In appointing members to the land authority, the governor will be looking for individuals who share his vision for making this a world-class economic ecosystem that sustainably blends research, training, employment, housing and shopping in ways that attract investment, enhance livability and reduce driving and congestion," he said.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara and Point of the Mountain Development Commission co-chairman, will provide an update of the group's work, which will now be focused on financing strategies, at a Utah Legislature interim committee meeting on Wednesday.