SALT LAKE CITY — So far, more than 25 sites have been proposed for a new state prison, but now that a legislative committee has decided what's important, the list is expected to grow.
"It's still a real shotgun approach with what we're doing here. But we are focusing now," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate chairman of the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission, said Thursday.
Stevenson said with the search criteria approved Wednesday by the commission, he expects more proposals to be put together and submitted to the state by private investors.
"I think as we move along and it becomes more of a surety, we're going to do this, you'll see the real estate community get involved," he said, in reference to finding a new home for the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain in Draper.
Most of the initial proposals were already ready to go as soon as the state began accepting offers nearly two months ago, Bob Nardi, a consultant hired by the state to help with the search, told the commission at its meeting.
Nardi said he's pitching the prison to economic development officials in Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah, Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties, as well as in Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Grantsville and Tooele.
"We're not turning down anyone who has an interest, wherever it may be" Nardi said. "We're reaching out. We're not waiting for people to simply come to us with a site."
He said the economic development officials have reacted well to what he called a "fairly robust outreach" for proposals. "I wouldn't say they were falling over themselves, but they were all positive and very cordial."
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, a commission member, said while local governments may be interested in housing a new prison, their constituents may not be.
"I don't know what community or neighborhood particularly will be clamoring to have a prison close by," Hughes said. "I think it's safe to say most wouldn't be excited to see a prison arrive in their neighborhood."
The responses to the form posted on the state Division of Facilities and Construction Management website are not being released under a provision of the state's open records law that protects real estate transactions.
"It's just that in these real estate negotiations, that's one way to cost taxpayers a lot of money, if we start negotiating in public," said Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, the commission's House chairman.
Although Nardi told the commission the sites proposed to date are in Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah and Box Elder counties, Wilson said there are also offers for property in Davis and Weber counties.
Wilson said the proposals are coming from land owners or their representatives, local governments, or real estate developers. Both Wilson and Stevenson said many of the proposals won't meet the new search criteria.
A proposed site in Box Elder County reachable only by a railroad causeway, for example, would require an expensive road to be built and possibly other infrastructure to be suitable.
Proximity to a population that could provide a prison staff and volunteers as well as to inmate families was the most weighted criteria approved by the commission, assigned 35 out of a possible 100 points.
Stevenson said proximity is the one criteria that can't be corrected by spending more money. Besides existing infrastructure, the commission is looking for buildable land, emergency services, development costs and acceptance by the community.
The senator said testimony to past groups studying a prison move made it clear it's important to consider "the way we affect people's lives, not only the people who work at that facility, but everything that goes into that."
With the new search criteria spelled out, Nardi said a new, more in-depth request for offers should be available soon and an effort to quickly eliminate obviously unsuitable sites can get underway.
Wilson said a short list of options should be ready for the commission's next meeting on Oct. 20. He said the commission will be ready to recommend a site to the 2015 Legislature, which begins meeting in late January.
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