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What’s next for the Draper prison site? Officials have many ideas

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Spencer Turley, director of prison operations for the Utah Department of Corrections, left, leads former Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov. Spencer Cox on a tour of the old Utah State Prison in Draper on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The old Utah State Prison site is set to become many different things.

A place of science and technology. A place with lots of green spaces, where people can enjoy outdoor recreation. A place of entertainment and business, where mass transit will take precedence over cars.

It's not likely, however, to be a haunted house this Halloween.

"We've had a lot of requests to turn (the old prison) into a haunted house," Utah Gov. Spencer Cox quipped during a Monday press conference at the Draper facility. "We've heard that that's something you want. But there are some real safety concerns out here that we need to take care of."

Cox, along with former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other officials, toured the now-closed prison on Monday and spoke to members of the media about future plans for the 700-acre site near Point of the Mountain.

The facility, which housed the state penitentiary for 71 years, recently moved all of its 2,464 prisoners to the new $1 billion Utah State Correctional Facility in west Salt Lake City.

The move, completed over five days, involved 340 runs between the facilities totaling 20,832 miles and was handled by some 1,300 staff members working each day. Inmates were moved by bus, van or car, depending on safety, security and medical-related needs.


The old Utah State Prison in Draper is pictured on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Gary Herbert and others toured of the facility.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Now officials are assessing what's next for the Draper site.

Cox said solid plans are still in the works, but they anticipate a monthslong abatement process that will remove hazards like asbestos from the buildings. He clarified that the asbestos currently isn't exposed but would be if they started demolition without removing them first.

From there, demolition will go well into next year, and then vertical construction will be visible by 2026, officials said.

And then the real work will begin. Cox said he and other leaders envision not just developments and high rises for the old prison site, but trails, parks and open spaces.

They also envision residences, businesses, entertainment, and opportunities in technology, biosciences and higher education. They're already in talks with Utah Valley University and the University of Utah, Cox said.

"I believe that right up there with our national parks and Temple Square, that this will be one of the most visited places in the state of Utah when it's finished," Cox said. "It really will be the gem of Utah and show the rest of the world what's possible."

In the meantime, the new prison located west of the Salt Lake City International Airport is understaffed, prison officials noted.

Cox emphasized that there's no danger to the public, but current staff members are all working mandatory overtime, so they're anxious for new recruits.

Officials also agreed that it's important to preserve and memorialize the old prison's chapel, Cox said. Shortly after the prison opened, the inmates rioted and took over the facility; and one of their demands was a chapel, he said.

It was then built with help from the inmates and has since served "as a reminder that there is hope even for the most fallen among us," Cox said, adding that during demolition, crews will carefully preserve the prison chapel, and new structures will be planned around it.

Cox also thanked Herbert for initiating and supporting the prison change effort. It's been Herbert's goal for many years, Cox said, to see a new prison built, "and here we are, it actually happened."

He presented Herbert with a key to the Draper prison, made to look as it would have in 1951.

Herbert said he remembers driving along the old highway and pointing to the prison with pride, he said, because "my grandfather helped build that facility which was needful for society. And it reminds me that most all things we do in life, it's many people working together."