DRAPER — Would you pay for something like an Eiffel Tower or a Space Needle in Draper? 

What if it were planned in such a way that it became an international tourist attraction and still didn’t clog the freeway near the Point of the Mountain?

I know, I know — and what if pigs could fly, right? Well, maybe not pigs, but how about cars?

Whatever you may think about members of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, who are trying to steer the fate of the Utah State Prison site once that facility closes in 2022, you cannot accuse them of not thinking big. 

In fact, as they told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards last week, their big worry is they won’t think big enough.

I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.

As regular readers of this column know, I have championed using part of that land as a large regional park.  

I’m not talking about some grass, trees and swing sets. I’m not talking about trails through the foothills of the mountains. I’m talking about something with a grand entrance, acres of rolling green hills with trees, statues and other artworks, fountains, perhaps an amphitheater and maybe some carnival rides — the type of place you would load up the minivan on a Saturday and drive to so you could relax for hours. 

Frederick Law Olmsted, the 19th century curator of New York’s Central Park, described such parks as the lungs of the city; a place that could “supply the hundreds of thousands of tired workers” with “a specimen of God’s handiwork.” We seem to have lost the vision many folks had in the 19th century.

So I was surprised when members of the commission seemed to fly right past Central Park and into the world of the Jetsons. 

People in the meeting kept talking about flying cars or, perhaps more down to earth, a community in which cars no longer are necessary. A video presentation the commission produced shows strange animated people movers and odd-looking things in the air, surrounded by a research park serving up cutting-edge technology. 

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who co-chairs the commission along with Rep. Lowry Snow, and who is in the middle of a campaign for governor, told the editorial board he wants something so big it would become an international tourist attraction. When I said that kind of talk makes me think of Seattle’s Space Needle and surrounding science center, or the Eiffel Tower, he said, “That’s exactly the type of thinking!”

When it comes to repurposing prison site, Cox says it’s time to ‘think big’

This isn’t just thinking out of the box, it’s throwing the box in the recycling can and tuning in SyFy on your cable provider. 

Which, at this stage, is just fine, although I’d like to reserve a front-row seat to the first legislative hearing in which taxpayers statewide are asked to build an Eiffel Tower and a parking garage for flying cars in Draper.

So far, the biggest criticism I’ve heard of the decision to move the prison to a site near Salt Lake City International Airport is that it will open a land grab for well-connected developers anxious to get their hands on some of the most valuable vacant land in the state’s history.

That’s why it was good to hear Snow, a long-time Utah legislator who represents part of St. George in the southwest corner of the state, hit the critics head on. That’s not his idea of how to use those 700 acres.

“This property is owned by the state, which means that every citizen in the state has a stake in this project and its outcome,” he told the editorial board last week.

Snow’s position as co-chairman of the commission may be important when it comes to persuading skeptics in the Legislature. If he sees value in creating a Draper tourist attraction, maybe others will, too.

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The challenge may run deeper than that, of course. Sandy and Lehi also have seen themselves as centers for Silicon Slopes development. They and other cities may resent the use of a lot of state money to help Draper.

In the end, the south end of Salt Lake County may not get a Space Needle or an Eiffel Tower. In that case, they could do worse than a well-planned regional park.

But it would be wrong to criticize modern leaders for not being as visionary as their counterparts two centuries ago, then jump all over them for ideas that are too far out there. 

Members of the commission may be short of specifics right now, but at least they can’t be accused of thinking small.

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