SALT LAKE CITY — Supporters of moving the Utah State Prison from Draper to free nearly 700 acres of prime real estate for development are counting on a picture being worth a thousand words.
Lobbyists for the city of Draper at the Capitol are sharing architectural renderings of what the site could look like should lawmakers agree that the aging prison should be relocated.
The renderings, which cost the city about $4,000, are intended to show Draper is thinking big when it comes to using the land at the south end of Salt Lake County, Draper City Councilman Jeff Stenquist said.
"The scale is huge. We're not looking at tract houses or strip malls," Stenquist said.
Instead, the city hopes to attract technology companies as well as high-rise residential housing and some retail outlets.
Stenquist said the renderings don't reflect any specific plans since developers have yet to approach the city with proposals. Nothing, the councilman said, has been given the go-ahead.
The images may be working. On Thursday, the House GOP caucus agreed to support the move. Only a few members of the caucus, which holds a supermajority that can control actions in the House, voted against resolutions backing relocation.
A longtime supporter of moving the prison, House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, expressed concern that the renderings may be focusing too much attention on development.
"What I don't want those renderings to do is confuse the moving of the prison as being driven by something like that what the opportunities on that current prison site would be," Hughes said.
Turning the property located between the Utah outposts of two major companies, Adobe and eBay, into what's being called "Silicon Slopes" is "a good conversation down the road," he said.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said that, as a former mayor, he understands why Draper wants a say in what happens to the prison property. But Dee also said that discussion won't happen among lawmakers for a while.
"The talk hasn’t come from us," Dee said. "Our emphasis has been should we move it" and the impact relocating the prison would have on employees and volunteers, as well as on inmates and their families.
Friday, the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah called on lawmakers to prohibit any member of the House or Senate "from engaging in any real estate doings that result from the prison move."
The alliance said 21 lawmakers have ties to real estate and development, including Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. All of them, the organization said, should declare that conflict of interest before voting on moving the prison.
"I appreciate that reminder. Personally, I’d be happy to disclose that conflict," Niederhauser said. "The idea I'm going to profit from prison redevelopment is a false idea."
The Senate president said his company has owned property in Bluffdale about 4 miles from the prison since 2001 that is expected to be fully developed by the beginning of next year.
Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said there will always be conflicts of interest in a part-time Legislature, but those conflicts are required to be disclosed. Utah does not allow lawmakers to recuse themselves from voting.
Dee said it's "ludicrous" to suggest anyone in the Legislature has a conflict of interest with developing the prison site at this point.
"We're not talking today about who may benefit or what might happen," the House majority leader said. If a decision is made this session to move the prison, "questions of where and when and how will come in the next few years."
The potential development proposed by Draper includes 105 acres of open space, more than 5,000 high- and medium-density residential units, and nearly 9 million square feet of office space in addition to retail, research and development and other uses.
Stenquist said Draper is "anxious to get this moving forward. We feel a little bit of frustration about how much time it's taken." The state's Prison Relocation and Development Authority has studied the issue for three years.
The city councilman said Draper is looking for a "concrete plan" from lawmakers this session. Besides approving the move, he said that means empowering the authority to select a developer for the site, as well as a new location for the prison.
"If it continues to drag on, we miss opportunities," Stenquist said. "The faster they're willing to move, the better for us."
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