Utah’s generational opportunity at Point of the Mountain

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Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, with the youngest median age and largest family size. The state has doubled in population over the last 30 years and is anticipated to double again by 2065.

Historically, Utahns have welcomed this growth and the benefits associated with it, as evidenced by our robust economy, low unemployment, and strong GDP growth. For generations, we have enjoyed the ability for our children and grandchildren to live close to us and find high-paying jobs right here at home. While this growth has translated into decades of prosperity and an excellent quality of life, Utah is at a tipping point.

Perhaps that’s why the state has taken a deliberative approach when considering what to do with the 680 acres of state-owned property at the Point of the Mountain. The site is well-served by infrastructure, centrally located at the heart of Utah’s fast-growing technology industry, “Silicon Slopes,” and surrounded by over 20,000 acres of prime developable land in adjacent communities.

If done well, sustainable development could represent a generational opportunity to establish Utah as a global crossroads of technology and innovation. If done haphazardly, however, the site could exacerbate the growth-related challenges in this narrow geographic area, create more traffic gridlock, and stifle opportunities for generations to come.

To understand the site’s potential, it’s important to understand its history.

For decades, the tenants at this state-owned property were inmates incarcerated at the Utah State Prison. During the 2014 General Session, the Legislature passedSenate Bill 268 to create the Prison Relocation Commission. The commission studied over 50 potential sites to relocate the prison and eventually selected an area three miles west of the Salt Lake City International Airport. The new prison is currently being built and is anticipated to be complete by 2022.

Draper City Mayor Troy Walker explains that the relocation was years in the making, “The state-owned site not only represents a generational opportunity to do something truly transformative for our Draper residents, but it also provides prison inmates with new facilities that are built to modern industry standards.” Walker says, “It’s really a win-win.”

In 2016, the Legislature passed House Bill 318 to create the Point of the Mountain (POM) Development Commission. The POM Commission hired Envision Utah as its consultant to study the area and develop a high-level vision for the site. For over two years, Envision Utah conducted stakeholder workshops, solicited input from over 4,000 Utahns, and created a preferred scenario for the site. Their work concluded that the 680 acres of state-owned land could attract major national and international companies, act as a catalyst for a world-class research park, support vibrant urban centers, create 150,000 high-paying jobs, and increase all Utahns’ household incomes by an average of $10,000 per year.

In 2018, the Legislature passed H.B. 372 Point of the Mountain (POM) State Land Authority and gave the entity the ability to plan, manage, and implement future site development. Last month, the POM Land Authority hired former head of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Alan Matheson, as its executive director.

In the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution in which the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work, Matheson is thinking big. “We need to create a site that will help to solve some of the challenges we’re facing and that will create a model for development elsewhere in the state,” says Matheson. “The biggest risk is that we don’t think big enough.”

While Matheson is quick to say that proposing solutions now would be premature, he articulates several principles that are consistent with the POM Commission’s vision for the site. These principles include leveraging innovative technologies, mitigating traffic impacts, developing environmentally friendly infrastructure, and facilitating a pipeline of well-qualified workers to fill the anticipated high-tech jobs the site could create.

The POM Commission’s preferred scenario identified robust transit service throughout the site, including an extension of the TRAX Blue Line. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) is currently leading an Alternatives Analysis to study various alignments and modes for potentially expanding transit service.

Big ideas are not new for the Point of the Mountain area. For example, Utah’s transportation agencies worked together for years to study the Interstate 15/FrontRunner corridor, developing ideas for innovative transportation solutions that included a bicycle superhighway, the double-tracking and electrification of FrontRunner, no-fare transit, variable pricing of freeway lanes, and real-time freeway ramp metering. In addition, disruptive transportation technologies like Utah’sautonomous shuttle, e-scooters, e-bikeshare programs, ride-hailing, and even flying cars could all be part of the area’s future transportation system.

“I am a fierce advocate for my community and will work tirelessly to ensure the priorities of my residents are represented in this process,” said Mayor Walker, pointing to a recent survey that showed Draper City residents want future growth within the city to be centered on the site. “As a member of the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, I look forward to continuing to work with the state on this process.”

Matheson echoed Walker’s sentiment, saying he is committed to working collaboratively with the local communities, businesses, agencies, stakeholders, and all Utahns on a shared vision for the future. “This has to be a catalyst to create opportunity throughout the region and the state,” explained Matheson. “It’s a state-owned site, which means it is owned by all the citizens of Utah. We have an obligation to make sure there is an economic and social return to all citizens.”

Muriel Xochimitl is President and CEO of X-Factor Strategic Communications. She is the former Director of Government Affairs and Communications for the Wasatch Front Regional Council and a former Communications Manager for the Utah Department of Transportation.