SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime head of Utah's Department of Environmental Quality, Alan Matheson, is leaving the agency to head the recently formed Point of the Mountain State Land Authority.
Matheson will assume the executive director position of the 11-member authority. The body, created by Utah lawmakers via HB372 in the 2018 legislative session, was given broad authority to oversee and manage how the 700-acre property is transformed.
The announcement came Thursday, just days after land authority member and Draper Mayor Troy Walker told the Deseret News he and fellow board members were interviewing two finalists for the position. While the authority convened its first meeting last June, little has happened since and Walker said Tuesday he was ready to move the work forward, noting, "I'm looking at 2021 and thinking we've got to get to work on this."
Land authority co-chairman Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the work of the body is in need of someone with Matheson's experience and background.
“We’re at a decisive moment in Utah’s history," Cox said in a statement. "Wise planning will make all the difference in helping us build the future we want for our kids and our grandkids. I am grateful to have found an invested, experienced leader to guide the Point of the Mountain Authority board through this crucial phase of investment and development.
"Alan’s work for the Department of Environmental Quality has been invaluable, and Utahns can expect the best from him as he serves in this critical new role.”
Gov. Gary Herbert also lauded the work Matheson has done since his appointment in 2015 as head of the state's environmental quality department.
“Alan has been an invaluable asset to my cabinet and senior team during his years of service at the Department of Environmental Quality,” Herbert said in a statement. “I have appreciated his firm focus on improving our air quality, as well as all aspects of the environment. He has been and will continue to be a trusted adviser, and I wish him all the best as he accepts this new position guiding important land development projects at Point of the Mountain.”
The Draper prison site is widely seen as a unique economic development opportunity, both because of the size of the property and its location in what has become a hot spot for the state's growing tech sector. Envisioning best uses for the property has been at the heart of the work undertaken by the Legislature-created Point of the Mountain Development Commission, an effort launched in 2016.
Last year, 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.
Matheson called the prison redevelopment project a "once in a generation" opportunity.
“I take on this new role with humility and hope," Matheson said in a statement. "Beyond a significant development project, the Point of the Mountain presents a generational opportunity to improve lives. I'm excited to work with the board and many partners to set the standard for well-planned, sustainable development that drives economic opportunity, solves transportation challenges and respects the environment.”
Currently, the Draper prison houses about 4,000 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. While the new prison being built on Salt Lake City's west side has broken ground, the facility will not be completed until 2021 and likely not occupied until 2022. Costs for the facility have skyrocketed from initial projections, with the current estimate coming in around $800 million.
The land authority co-chairmen, Cox and Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, both previously noted the work of the body would expand and accelerate as the prison relocation date approached.
Other board members include Utah Higher Education Commissioner Dave Buhler; Alpine Companies CEO April Cooper; Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan; Governor's Office of Economic Development Executive Director Val Hale; South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey; Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management Director Jim Russell; Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton; Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem; and Walker.