DRAPER Draper city leaders are eager to say goodbye to the prison that has locked up prime real estate for more than 50 years.
As Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. moved forward Monday with a feasibility study on moving the Utah State Prison, south valley city planners began eyeing the nearly 700 acres they say could be a "regional hub" if the facility pulls its Draper roots.
"Draper is ready to become an employment center as well as a bedroom community," said Eric Keck, Draper city manager. "The ultimate move of the prison will be a good thing for this end of the valley because that is some of the most valuable commercial property in the state."
A request for proposals on the study went out Monday, the first step in possibly removing the prison from Draper's west side. The Draper prison has sat at the Point of the Mountain since 1951, but Keck said the spot no longer makes sense as residential and retail developments press closer to the facility.
"We're no longer the end of the world," Keck said. "The state has got to be thinking about the value of this property because of its strategic location."
That location includes visibility and access from both I-15 and Bangerter Highway. Keck, who envisions a mix of office space and industrial uses at the site, said the prison acreage could be the linchpin in a continuos commercial corridor between Utah and Salt Lake counties.
But relocating the prison comes with a price tag. Last year, Huntsman estimated the prison move could cost between $250 million and $300 million. The feasibility study alone is pegged at $140,000.
But Bill Rappleye, CEO of the Draper Chamber of Commerce, said that expense is small compared with the money the state could make from mounting land values in the area.
An acre of residential property in Draper currently sells for between $500,000 and $750,000. With retail property values soaring even higher, Rappleye said the prison land could translate into billions for the state and the city.
"That could more than double the possibility of economic space in Draper," he said. "It had its purpose many years ago when this was just a rural farming community, but things have changed so rapidly."
But the prison is still a major economic force in Draper, Keck said, employing roughly 1,150 people. Much of that workforce comes from Draper residents who may have to uproot along with the prison.
The trade-off for more retail jobs makes up for that loss, however, and could create an "employment nucleus" for the state, Keck added.
And Draper isn't the only city hoping to benefit from a prison move. Bluffdale city leaders are also making plans for development on the site that would abut the city's boundaries.
"Bluffdale has no economic engine; this could really jump-start their economy," Rappleye said.
While Bluffdale officials do not yet have any concrete plans, the area could be used to amplify commercial development near the 14600 South interchange.
"Certainly the prison being there probably is a deterrent right now. Without that, with other kinds of businesses and stuff going in there, it would definitely be a benefit for Bluffdale," planning director Blaine Gehring said.
Bluffdale development has been creeping toward the prison in recent years, with homes inching closer to the facility. An additional 600-acre mixed-use development, incorporating commercial and residential units, has been proposed just south of 14600 South near the freeway offramp.
"We'll be interested to see what comes out of the study too," administrative services director Brent Bluth said. "We'll be waiting right along with the rest of the public to see what's going to happen or if it will be possible or what's going to come of it."
If the prison does relocate, Bluth added that the new growth will bring plenty of transportation and infrastructure impacts. Bluth said he hopes the feasibility study addresses those challenges.
The prison relocation will also remove the stigma many residents feel about being home to the correctional facility, Keck added. Several retailers have shied away from building close to the prison grounds and residents have long complained about the light pollution from the bright, all-night lights."We might lose that epic of our history, and, frankly, that might be OK," Keck said.