When the state of Utah closed its prison in the Sugar House section of Salt Lake City in 1951 and moved inmates to a new facility in Draper, it must have seemed a safe location in the middle of nowhere, far from any significant population centers.
Today, however, the 71-year-old prison site is at the heart of a burgeoning Silicon Slopes district that is a nationwide driver of jobs and innovation, as well as of one of the fastest growing sections of a multicounty metroplex.
With the prison set to move soon to a new location near the Salt Lake City International Airport, the state has a rare opportunity. The removal of the old prison will provide the state with 600 acres of prime, undeveloped land and opportunity in its environs — a chance to sculpt something that will be much more than just the typical fare of housing and office space.
State and local officials this week announced plans for the first phase of development, and they also asked the public to share ideas for a focal point to the project, something not only eye-catching but that could serve as a regional, or perhaps even national, draw.
In previous meetings with the Deseret News editorial board, state leaders spoke about something along the lines of Seattle’s Space Needle or the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a focal point. Critics may scoff at such grand ideas, but we prefer big thinking to the usual fare where such rare development opportunities exist.
The plans so far call for about 40% of the area to be used for housing suitable to all income levels. This would translate into about 7,400 residential units. The importance of this cannot be understated. Utah has a severe housing shortage, and a particularly acute shortage of affordable housing. While it may take years for this housing to be constructed, this focus is vitally important.
The “hub” of this project, as state leaders call it, is being pitched as a regional gathering place — one where mass transit, rather than cars, would be the focus. It would feature entertainment, restaurants and walkable spaces with high-density housing, retail and office space. Park space will also be included, connecting the Jordan River Parkway to the Corner Canyons area and to the regional trails east of I-15.
As state leaders describe it, this would be a recreation place people would plan to visit for a day with family, as well as an entertainment hub couples or other group gatherings would visit in the evening to relax.
It all sounds great, but the details are vital.
We commend officials working on The Point for involving the public in the planning process and for thinking big. They must avoid any suggestion that well-connected people are enriching themselves from this new development or that their motives lie anywhere other than the creation of a hub that will serve the Wasatch Front as an attraction for decades, or even centuries to come.
Opportunities like these don’t come often, if they come at all. They must be handled correctly. So far, so good.