Prison relocation group has yet to request proposals for developing Point of the Mountain

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Prison is shown with housing developments in the background in Draper Wednesday, June 13, 2012.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A group formed by the 2011 Legislature to draft a request for proposals to relocate the state prison from Point of the Mountain has yet to start writing.

"We've got plenty of time to do it," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, one of the legislative members of the Prison Relocation and Development Authority Committee, set to hold its monthly meeting Friday.

Jenkins, who has been designated by the committee as its spokesman, said the group is still getting up to speed on the details developers would have to address in a proposal to move the 61-year-old overcrowded prison, possibly to Tooele County.

Developers and governments eager to start collecting taxes on the land have long sought to free up the prison's more than 700 acres in Draper, considered a prime location for commercial and residential development.

"It's been a little tough to get a grasp on this thing," Jenkins said. "Really, what's driving this is they want to get their hands on this property. But the property value has gone down. It's not the gem it was a few years ago."

The latest look comes after a 2005 study ordered by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. found it would cost $461 million to move the prison, but the land was worth only as much as $93 million.

Steve Bogden, Coldwell Banker Commercial managing director, said after prices peaked around 2007 for undeveloped commercial property, it's now generally worth only about half as much.

"There's no question it needs to be done," Bogden said of moving the prison. "We think it's inevitable, but maybe not in the next 20 or 30 years."

This committee, which has been meeting monthly since January, has until mid-2014 to request and review proposals and to make a recommendation to the governor on the project.

Jenkins said it's going to take some time. "I do believe personally it will be a few months before we get down to writing the RFP (request for proposals)," he said.

But Al Mansell, a former state Senate president and real estate broker involved in the effort to fast-track the bidding process that sparked the legislation, said there's no time to waste.

"The urgency is that in order to really have a viable project, you've got to have low interest rates," Mansell said. "I hope you hurry so we don't lose those favorable interest rates and cost the state millions and millions of dollars. That's my only concern. I don’t have a concern about who does it."

Mansell, along with Salt Lake Chamber lobbyist Robin Riggs and former Utah Board of Pardons Chairman Michael Sibbett, had quietly pushed in 2010 for quick action on a prison move that likely would have limited competition for the project.

"It seemed to me like it was being rushed," said House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsor of the bill creating the prison relocation committee. Hughes said he came up with the legislation in response to Mansell's effort.

Hughes said there are likely other developers, including private prison contractors, who might have ideas for making the move profitable. What he doesn't want to see is the committee taking no action now so a bid could be sought less publicly later.

"I have faith in this authority if they decide this is simply not the right time. But the cynic in me says don't have a procurement process as soon as this statute expires. That will raise red flags with me," he said.

Mansell said the past study showing the move would cost taxpayers $368 million was flawed because it did not take into account the tax revenues that the property could generate — or the economic development impact.

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