The demolition of Utah’s old state penitentiary begins with a bang

textile merchant • It took colossal blows and three powerful hauls from an excavator on Tuesday to bring down the first guard tower at the now-empty Utah State Prison, in what officials described as a significant milestone.

More than 150 people gathered around the north end of the former prison in Draper near the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility to watch the watch tower collapse and began months of demolition work to clear the 600-acre site for the development of a futuristic and to clear a lush green building community called The Point, one of the largest public projects in Utah history.

Crews completed the new $1 billion, 1.3 million square foot Utah State Correctional Facility on the western edge of Salt Lake City earlier this year, and more than 2,400 inmates were transported there in July.

Draper Mayor Troy Walker said he worked “14 years, 10 months and 29 days” to move the 71-year-old prison, and the three-year-old mayor was visibly cocky as he and others spoke ahead of the inauguration of the destruction .

It was, Walker said, “like the rising sun.”

“I never felt that the jail hurt our city,” the mayor said. “But it’s certainly not the best use of this property. This is a window of opportunity opening.”

According to formal plans, The Point is envisaged as a regional model for blending open space and recreational pathways with housing, office buildings, retail outlets, academic research enclaves and public meeting places in a way that will attract new residents to the region and encourage economic development and innovation.

State legislatures voted in 2015 to close the famous prison and build a replacement facility in Salt Lake City to open up the chosen Draper site and surrounding lands to new construction – much to the chagrin of then leaders in Utah’s capital.

Adding “another must-see place” in Utah

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Alan Matheson, executive director of the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, former Utah Governor Gary Herbert, and Draper Mayor Troy Walker wait to arrive before demolition work begins in front of the Crowd speak Former Utah State Prison in Draper with the fall of a jailer tower near the Timpanogos facility on Tuesday, November 29, 2022.

Alan Matheson, executive director of the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, told those gathered that The Point would symbolically “add another star to the constellation of must-see places in the state” – for an attraction he said was comparable to Temple is Square, the State Capitol, its ski resorts or Redrock Country.

Matheson called the transition “a movement of barbed wire, surveillance and restrictions to a place that is open and accessible, from an isolated, cut off and fenced place to a connected and integral part of this region.”

The project also includes an environmental refreshment for an adjacent stretch of the Jordan River.

Former Gov. Gary Herbert, who championed the prison move during his tenure, called it a “win-win” and commended state leaders for their foresight in approving the transition.

After the speeches were made, teams from the West Bountiful-based Grant Mackay Demolition Co. repeatedly drilled and pounded the base of the tower, tearing at it twice with an attached cable, without it moving while spectators and dignitaries watched calmly.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) On Tuesday, November 29, 2022, demolition of the former Utah State Penitentiary at Draper began with the collapse of a prison guard tower near the Timpanogos facility.

The crews pulled out a wrecking ball and eventually hurled it into the tower’s buttresses so many times that on the third pull, the structure gave way and crashed into an empty parking lot with a resounding bang, dislodging the tower’s roof from the center column.

Brett Griffiths, an inside security officer at the new Salt Lake City Correctional Facility, was busily snapping photos. He said his first assignment when he started working at the old prison in 2018 was in the very same tower, where he worked a lonely 12-hour shift overseeing the fences and enclosures.

“It’s a bit sad,” Griffiths, a resident of southern Jordan, said of Tuesday’s destruction, but added that the new prison allows for better and more humane treatment of inmates.

preservation of the prison chapel

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Onlookers await the start of demolition at the former Utah State Penitentiary in Draper on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 with the collapse of a prison guard tower near the Timpanogos facility.

The state agency voted in May to save the prison’s small 61-year-old wayside chapel, built by inmates and arising from demands made during a 1957 prisoner riot for a proper place of worship and reflection.

The state also preserves the prison’s antique central locking system, known as the Johnson bar. A relic from when the state prison first operated at the Sugar House, there is only one left in the country, in the remains of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on San Francisco Bay.

The timeline for completing the entire prison demolition is “a moving target,” according to Caleb Townes, project manager for Grant Mackay, but it will likely stretch well into next year, with much of the rubble earmarked for recycling.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the media, state officials, Draper leaders, prison officials and onlookers wait in freezing temperatures to watch as the demolition of the former Utah State Penitentiary in Draper begins with the collapse of a guard tower near the Timpanogos facility on Tuesday November 29, 2022.

The land authority in July selected a consortium of developers as lead partners for a first and pivotal 78-acre phase of the state’s publicly vetted master plan for the site, and negotiations are ongoing. The team includes Lincoln Property Co., headquartered in Dallas; Colmena Group, based in Salt Lake City; and Wadsworth Development Group in Draper.

The agency, meanwhile, will release its most detailed plan yet for The Point by the end of the year.

Patrick Hall, a Draper resident, brought his family in wintry weather to watch Tuesday’s raid and said he was among those excited to see what The Point will bring through more shops, parks and regional trails .

“I’d rather see something new,” Hall said. “I’m a family man and to me it seems like instead of a prison it’s going to be a place for families to come.” The demolition of Utah’s old state penitentiary begins with a bang

Justin Scacco

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