A bill that would create a special board to consider the economic benefit of moving the Utah State Prison has been passed between the House and Senate. As of March 13, it is in the Senate.
The bill sponsor of SB72, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain, said the ultimate goal would be to move the prison out of Draper without spending any state money, a project estimated to cost between $550-600 million.
“The current prison has about 111 buildings that are scattered all over,” Jenkins said. “The new prison would be consolidated and have electronic gates and doors making it possible to save in the amount of employees it takes to run the prison.”
Jenkins said it is estimated that the new prison would require about 315 fewer employees, which would save close to 20 million dollars per year.
“The real benefit of moving the prison is the economic viability of the property,” Jenkins said. “When the prison was first built it was way out there in Draper where no one ever went. It turns out that Draper is in the hub of this IT corridor now.”
Jenkins said the use of the property would be officially determined by the special board that is created in conjunction with the city, but the general thought is that it will be used to expand what he calls the “IT corridor.”
“Talking with the economic development people, they have notified us that just about every big company that comes to town wants to be in Lehi or Draper, down in that area because there is so much synergism going between those companies.”
Jenkins said if the prison is going to be moved, now is a good time to do it.
“Construction costs are low and interest rates are low, so as long as those two things stay low that makes it a viable project right now,” he said.
Jenkins said the property is estimated to be worth between $100 and $140 million dollars.
“Between deferred maintenance on the property, which is about $51 million, savings of labor, which is about $17-20 million and the sale of the property, we think we can come really close to covering the move of the prison,” he said.
He said the focus of the project is less on the prison and more on the sale of the property.
“They estimate that the economics of that property could benefit the state to the tune of $20 billion dollars over the next 20 years,” Jenkins said.
There are some legislators who are concerned that decisions regarding this bill are being rushed and don’t necessarily represent what the community wants.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, said if the project can’t be done without tax dollars, local agencies may not want to give up tax revenues to build a new prison.
“Help me understand what the vested interest is for the local community to even give one wit about relocation of the prison and how it’s financed, other than they can have new ground to develop,” Madsen said.
However, Jenkins said residents of Draper and the surrounding communities are excited at the possibility of relocating the prison.
Jess Blockburger, from Sandy, agrees that moving the prison is a good idea.
“When they first started talking about this initiative Draper was mostly farmland, it was a much smaller town,” Blockburger said. “Now the community has grown and is still growing, and the prison takes up valuable land that could be used for other things.”