What's next for the Draper prison site? 'The Point' releases first concepts for future development

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DRAPER — While the Utah State Prison still functions in Draper, an organization tasked with planning what's next for the 600 acres of land it sits on sees its future as a community area rich with innovation, sustainability and economic growth.

Those are some of the key elements that The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, or "The Point," unveiled Tuesday in its first draft plans for what may replace it in the future.

The organization also launched a new survey this week that asks people what they prefer most for the surplus of land that is expected to be made available after the new prison located in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant opens next year.

"We've got 600 acres of state-owned land by the Point of the Mountain that provides an opportunity for us to really build an iconic Utah community," said Alan Matheson, executive director of The Point, in an interview with KSL.com.

The organization launched an online survey last year that kicked off the process of how the land will be developed. Feedback from that survey provided information that led to the document released Tuesday as the group works to compile a master plan.

Officials said they were able to identify six "key vision elements": community, transit, economic growth, innovation, sustainability and collaboration.

This graphic shows the key the six "key vision elements" in the initial draft of a possible master plan released Tuesday, May 4, 2021.
This graphic shows the key the six "key vision elements" in the initial draft of a possible master plan released Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Photo: The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority)

The Point also put together five "guiding principles" and three "preliminary concepts." The principles listed were:

  • Connect the Jordan River Parkway with mountain trail systems
  • Respect, restore and enhance water and green infrastructure systems
  • Maximize connections to transportation assets and emphasize walkability
  • Create a clear project center and identity
  • Create sub-districts and sub-centers based on a 5-minute walking radius

The preliminary concepts identified by the organization start with making a "complete community" and ties together six housing neighborhoods that would be created.

This map, created by the The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, shows where the new land would be added to Salt Lake County from the demolision of the Utah State Prison in Draper.
This map, created by the The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, shows where the new land would be added to Salt Lake County from the demolision of the Utah State Prison in Draper. (Photo: The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority)

Another concept is creating a "regional hub" that wouldn't necessarily be packed in with new buildings. The concept would incorporate "development along larger greenspaces to serve as a community amenity that provides public amenities not available in the surrounding area," such as larger parks along with entertainment or cultural venues and restaurants.

Finally, they pinpointed "economic catalyst" as the other preliminary concept. It's similar to having a downtown but with more open space.

"This concept is more car-free and brings together retail, office, residential and hotel uses for a vibrant central space," the organization wrote. "The institutional anchor in this concept is centered around parts of the former prison that have been preserved to link the site's past with its future."

This graphic shows what three different preliminary concepts could look like for the land where the Utah State Prison exists.
This graphic shows what three different preliminary concepts could look like for the land where the Utah State Prison exists. (Photo: The Point of the Mountain State Land Authority)

Peter Kindel, a director with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a global architectural and urban planning firm brought in to assist The Point in the planning process, said, depending on the selected design, the project is projected to result in 55% to 60% development of the 600 acres and be home to 11,000 to 17,000 residents.

Meanwhile, the survey and open houses ask people to vote on specific planning aspects they would like to see from the project. For instance, they're asked if they would prefer movie theaters over museums and art galleries or a live performance venue most.

Another question asks people if they prefer shopping center styles like City Creek Center or smaller, local stores. They're also asked what they'd prefer the open space to look like.

Transportation is another key element of the study. People are asked if they prefer walkable spaces, public transportation, autonomous shuttles or high-capacity roads. Finally, it asks them how important it is to add in schools or educational centers, housing stock and environmentally friendly options to the 600-acre space.

Matheson said the redevelopment provides an opportunity for The Point to create a community with the possibility of being "internationally recognized and locally loved."

"We've got not just an opportunity but a responsibility to really improve the quality of life for the people of Utah today and in the future," he said. "As we look at this site, we are looking for ways to accommodate some of the challenges of growth and do it in a way that reflects the values of the people of Utah.

"We're trying to create a place that will be sustainable and work in harmony with nature, improve air quality and reduce resource use," he added. "We're also trying to create a place that is focused on ingenuity and innovation, where some of the great talent around the world will gather to help solve some of the challenges we face in the world but we also want this to be a place that's fun, a place where people can gather."

Leaders of The Point reviewed their first draft during a virtual open house Tuesday. Another virtual open house is scheduled for May 20, while the online survey closes on May 28.

'It's very much unique'

The Point was formed as the result of a bill that passed in the Utah Legislature in 2018, which called for an 11-member board of state legislators, as well as various local elected officials and agency executives. It's co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara.

Prior to the formation of the organization, the state Legislature formed the Point of the Mountain Development Commission that sought to figure out how to handle anticipated population growth and project planning in the area through 2050.

The relocation of the prison and its available land was one of the main topics the commission reviewed. The Point was then tasked with planning the future of the site once the current Utah State Prison moves. The state's new prison is expected to open sometime in mid-2022 and work to demolish the prison campus will begin sometime after that.

The vacating of the prison site leaves Salt Lake County with a major plot of land for future growth. In a video released by The Point last month, Gov. Spencer Cox called it a nearly unheard of opportunity for any urban location to all of a sudden have several hundred acres made available.

"This is unlike anything we've seen in the history of the State of Utah and a rare opportunity in the United States or anywhere in the world," the governor said in the video.

Its availability came at an opportune time for the state and region, as well. Late last month, the Census Bureau confirmed Utah was the fastest-growing state of the past decade per percentage growth. Utah's and Idaho's growth bucked nationwide trends.


While the city and county data from the 2020 Census has yet to be released, the prison location is also in the middle of a growing population hub and tech scene in southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties known as the Point of the Mountain.

The opportunity to design a project of this scale is also what piqued the interest of Kindel and his firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

"It's very much unique in the country and that's what really appealed to us as a planning firm," he said, adding that the area has the possibility of being completely different from anywhere else in the world in terms of live-work spaces.

"I think we're well on our way to developing a plan that achieves those goals."

As a part of the master plan design process, project leaders reviewed some of the best mixed-use community designs across the United States. They found many successful projects across the globe add similar attributes.

That includes some sort of community anchor, like a business that gathers people or a park. For instance, one possible central park design presented during the meeting would be the size of the Salt Lake City-County Building in downtown Salt Lake City and its surrounding area in terms of scale.

"Part of it is creating a great place where people want to be with a housing-office mix. Part of it is having an institutional anchor at the site that could be the public or private sector, but an anchor that really induces investment in the area and attracts some of the talent," Matheson said. "We've been looking at all of those things and more when we're looking at our planning."

Leaders also have attempted to bring in all the feedback they can get from companies looking to move to expand in or to Utah and residents of the area. In a statement Tuesday, Snow said that the state has received thousands of comments over the past few years as to handle the site.

"During the visioning process, Utahns told us they wanted high-quality jobs, strategic residential and commercial growth, substantial amounts of trails and parks, better mobility and improved air quality, so the Legislature took that public input and made it into law," his statement read, in part.

It was also made clear through many Point of the Mountain Development Commission meetings that tech companies eying Utah for business wanted certain community features, such as different forms of transportation and housing. Kindel explained that many tech companies prefer their business operating in a "creative environment" with amenities more appealing to younger workers, such as access to the outdoors, walkable districts and neighborhoods and proximity to important services.

"That's really some of the organizing principles behind the designs," he said, of that aspect.

What's next in the process

There's still quite a bit of time between now and when development will begin around the prison site. For starters, the prison will remain in operation through mid-2022 until prisoners are relocated to the new facility.

That's also why the organization and state officials are planning now so they can get the project "done right." Planning while the prison is still in operation provides leaders with enough time to ensure their plans align with the region's housing and work desires and demands while also adjusting to environmental constraints.

Hopefully this project can become a model (for dealing with population growth) and we're working with that objective in mind — this really becomes a sustainable model for a new kind of mixed-use development in the Wasatch Front.

–Peter Kindel, director with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

Future conversations will include what types of housing and offices will exist in the area, as well as how roads and other forms of transportation will be implemented.

"We know housing is a big issue in our community; in particular, the affordability of housing in our region," Matheson said. "We've been doing significant marketing analysis to see where the market is, what's going to be needed — not just today but into the future — and we expect you'll see a variety of housing types on this site that will accommodate the needs of the workforce in the area."

By releasing the first draft plan Tuesday and allowing multiple ways of community feedback, he said he hoped that will help project leaders refine ideas for the master plan and the future of the area.

A final framework and a master plan are expected to be finalized later this year with more specific projects and mockups anticipated in the coming years after that. The first buildings could pop up by the end of the decade but the demolition of the Utah State Prison will signal when the redevelopment of the area truly begins, Matheson explained.

Project leaders said they hope to continue to hear feedback from the community as the planning process continues.

"We are working hard to make this a transformative project for the region," Kindel added. "Hopefully this project can become a model (for dealing with population growth) and we're working with that objective in mind — this really becomes a sustainable model for a new kind of mixed-use development in the Wasatch Front."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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