This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
State legislative leaders want to think big about what replaces the prison in Draper really big.
A high-tech park similar to Silicon Valley? Too small.
Draper Mayor Troy Walker's plan for skyscrapers that rival or surpass downtown Salt Lake City? Maybe.
How about a 20,000-acre redesign focused around the high-tech sector, complete with new light-rail spurs and major east-west roads, condominiums stacked on top of office buildings and new university partnerships? A massive plan costing well into the billions where the prison property is a crown jewel in a broader undertaking that spans the boundary between Salt Lake and Utah counties? Now we are talking.
Late last week, state Sen. Jerry Stevenson and Rep. Brad Wilson, the Davis County Republicans who led the prison-relocation effort, convened meetings at Thanksgiving Point with city mayors, county leaders, transportation officials, business executives and representatives of some of Utah's established tech giants to pitch their vision.
They are proposing legislation that would launch a $600,000 study led by the planning organization Envision Utah, which would create a master plan for a high-tech center that would rival any in the world. The yet-to-be released bill also could create a development authority that would find ways to pay for such major projects, which could involve a local tax increase or possibly earmarking revenue raised from the prison-site development for other projects.
"This is such a big deal. It has to be looked at regionally," Stevenson said. "We only have one chance to do it right."
This area around the Point of the Mountain, from 114000 South in Draper to Pioneer Crossing in Lehi, has seen massive population growth in recent years at the same time major technology companies have put down roots, businesses such as Adobe and Xactware, among others.
The legislators, with the backing of House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, worry that focusing exclusively on the 700-acre prison redevelopment plan may spawn an uneven landscape, particularly when the roads and transit needed to service that site could easily be extended to neighboring jurisdictions.
"If you allow one community to go in there and dominate the process, then how does that relate to its neighbors?" asked Stevenson, who noted conversely that "whatever happens in surrounding communities will impact Draper as well. We've just got to have a discussion."
He said one goal is to stop cities from fighting over a company because they want to collect more tax revenue, and another is to create some consistency for workers and employers in the region.
Some local leaders believe this idea is a bit premature and could lead to siphoning taxes raised in Salt Lake County to fund projects in Utah County.
"It feels like the tail wagging the dog, and I'm uncomfortable with how this conversation has started," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
He heard about the meeting from a fellow mayor and was surprised to find a rather developed proposal. He would like to see this start over, with local officeholders and planning officials identifying a need and putting the project out to a competitive bid. McAdams called it "a little bit backward" to already name Envision Utah to lead the effort. He also was dismayed over talk of using money raised from the prison-site development to fund a light-rail extension that would end near Adobe's building in Lehi. Wilson, who is the bill's author, said that won't happen. His legislation would form a development authority and require any taxes raised in a city to stay in that city.
Despite his reservations, McAdams said a wider development plan was "a worthwhile concept and one we would be happy to engage in."
Stevenson noted some hesitancy among city and county officials, saying it's common for talk of a regional plan to cause some to "get very protective. They put themselves into a shell."
He noted that if this study moves forward, no city or county would be mandated to follow its conclusions. Stevenson and Wilson suggest the state pick up more than half the tab they are thinking $350,000 or $400,000 and the other players cover the rest.
Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, said there's been talk of a master plan for the area for some time, but it had always been stymied by the existence of the 4,000-bed prison in Draper and the gravel pits in the area.
The prison is expected to relocate to the capital city, west of Salt Lake City International Airport, in early 2020. The plan would also look at what should replace the gravel pits when mining there comes to an end.
Grow said the first step would be a study of other high-tech centers in places such as Seattle and maybe even Singapore, with a goal of finding the best way to cater to these companies and their employees. He said the plan would likely have more dense housing, a focus on outdoor recreation and new ways to link bedroom communities to business hubs. He also suggested that Utah's research universities may play a role in this development. Extensions of the TRAX lines going to Draper and Daybreak are also likely.
"We need to prepare for the industry clusters that exist today and that will expand," he said.
The initial plan was for Stevenson and Wilson to push legislation creating this regional planning effort, while two other state lawmakers, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, would offer a bill specifically about the prison site. That legislation would have tried to guide the development toward the high-tech sector and require the planning process to be finalized before the state would give up ownership of the land.
But Snow said he plans to drop the effort for the time being, thinking it makes sense for the Point of the Mountain project to move forward first.
"Based on my experience," he said, "it makes sense to take care of the broader picture first."