New panel begins look at redeveloping Utah prison land

New panel begins look at redeveloping Utah prison land

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — From the mouths of an economist, a commercial real estate leader and the state's top transportation planner, future development at Point of the Mountain presents opportunities that will affect Utah and Utahns for generations.

"I think as a commission, you ought to constantly challenge yourself. You should be asking yourself, 'Are we thinking big enough?'" said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Gochnour, speaking Monday afternoon during the inaugural meeting of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, said development of the 25-mile corridor from Midvale to Pleasant Grove is "economic history in the making."

With the fight over relocation of the Utah State Prison now in the rearview mirror, the task ahead involves coming up with a plan for a larger area referred to as ''Silicon Slopes," not just the 700 acres where the state prison is currently located.

The commission, made up of 10 elected officials as well as representatives of the executive branch and private sector, is charged with delivering a plan to the Utah Legislature by December.

Monday's meeting was part crystal-ball gazing and planning for an ambitious agenda, which includes a request-for-proposals process to hire a consultant to assist the legislatively created commission with its work.

HB318, co-sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, calls for the commission to consider the objectives of maximizing job creation, ensuring a high quality of life for people in the project area, strategic residential and commercial growth, mobility and protecting the environment, among other factors.

Presently, Gochnour said, "we're seeing an economic reaction at the Point of Mountain and it is boiling over."

More than 57,755 new jobs have been created in corridor since 2010.

The area encompasses six of the state's 10 fastest growing cities — including Vineyard, Bluffdale, Saratoga Springs, Herriman and South Jordan.

One of every six new residential units is located in Herriman, Lehi and South Jordan, she said.

As buildable land in Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties dwindles, with slightly less than 90,000 acres among them, there remains 237,489 acres in Utah County alone, she said.

Mark Bouchard, senior managing director of the commercial real estate services firm CBRE's southwest region, urged the commission to think globally about the area's potential development.

"This site absolutely will attract global interest. Depending on how it is brought to market, there will be many, many global entities interested in the dynamics of Utah because of the publicity we receive and all the other data points that we score high on," Bouchard said.

He urged the commission to seize upon the "once-in-a-lifetime" possibilities for planning development of the corridor.

"You as a commission have the opportunity to create something that has never been created before in the United States," Bouchard said.

"You should be bold and creative and think innovatively."

While he agrees the project requires thinking big, Andrew Gruber, executive director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said the task ahead also requires thinking small.

"What I mean is, making sure at the local, neighborhood level that communities are engaged in this discussion, understand that it's their community's future that is being talked about and that we are appropriately bringing them in. That means, of course, the local governments but also the residents, the neighborhoods that live here," Gruber said.

Growth is coming and that means change, he said.

"Keeping things exactly as they are today is not a realistic option. How do we have that conversation with the larger community and acknowledge change is coming and it doesn't have to be a scary thing?" Gruber said.

Chris Conabee, co-chairman of the commission, said the group's goal is to ensure the state takes every advantage of this unique opportunity and that every voice is heard.

“We need thought leaders’ best planning for this area to reach its economic potential and for our state to remain globally competitive,” Conabee said.

Wilson said the area has the potential to be "an international employment and innovation center, attracting the world's best and brightest, and developing a place where our homegrown companies and people can continue to thrive.”

Bouchard said he believes Utah is uniquely positioned to meet these objectives.

"I'm a big believer in Utah. Utahns know how to get things done. The public-private partnership is better here than anywhere in the country. If it can be done, this group can do it," he said.

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