The best thing about converting the present Utah Prison site in Draper into some kind of south valley high-rise business and commerce district or high-tech recreational campus (both options posited in a recent story by Matt Canham in The Salt Lake Tribune), is that I won't be around to see it. It will occur long after my departure from this earthly tether, so I won't be here to grouse about it. Or, it's possible I'm wrong—that Draper is such a lucrative plot of dirt, that the project is built on a fast track, in which case I'll bid an overdue adieu to all of you and just up and leave.
I don't support moving the Draper prison. It's been there as long as I can remember and it's doing just fine as it is. If we must have a new prison—and clearly we must, because in this modern world, incarceration is big business—the dictates of maximizing profits per prisoner warrant that Utahns become more efficient in the warehousing of its prison population.
We can call it humanity or compassion or whatever we want, but the truth is, prisons are one of the most sustainable growth business models ever created. All a government needs to finance a new one is a couple of well-placed tears running down the cheeks of a prisoner's family member or a gaudy report from a resident expert psychiatrist describing in great detail the cruel and unusual punishment society places on a person spending time behind bars after being convicted of performing a cruel and unusual act on a fellow member of our society—like bouncing a check or getting caught with a roach clip. Our prisons are chock full of low-level criminals—and they're always in good supply.
It doesn't hurt when greasy developers and slimy politicians enter the mix—sometimes they are one and the same in Utah. They talk of great opportunity and big money. I don't understand that. Utah is perhaps 90 percent a recreational zone to begin with, and it often comes at low or no cost to enjoy. When I was young, some folks took their fishing poles down along the Jordan River that flows past the prison to catch a catfish or two. Others sneaked into the warm springs that abut or reside on the prison property for a quick skinny dip. Is that the kind of recreation they have in mind? It's really just hype to somehow mitigate the smoke and mirrors of this great land heist.
There was a nice piece of art that accompanied the Canham story. It showed a rendering of what the current Draper site might look like if the prison moves, and the property is rebuilt with skyscrapers. An adjoining cutline suggests that the drawing doesn't even go far enough for Draper Mayor Troy Walker, who envisions the construction of a battery of 50-story buildings—making them easily the tallest in Utah—at what is currently called Point of the Mountain. It should be renamed What's the Point of This Fiasco?
Dreamers took us to the moon, but Mayor Walker's idea is a nightmare. You know Utah. You've seen all this before. This is sellable. The tall structures look nice, they look bold, they dwarf what is currently downtown Salt Lake City, they look like, uhh, San Jose. Except it's not San Jose. What that prison site is destined to look like is what Draper already looks like—Ikea Land.
It wasn't that long ago that my friends and I would ride horses in Corner Canyon and through Dimple Dell. Then homes and subdivisions sprung up all over Draper's farmland and pastures, and you'd be lucky to spot a horse in Draper these days. And, of course, the new homeowners didn't like the smell of horses, so the horse-property folks were slowly forced elsewhere.
You don't see mention of that in today's hype about rebuilding Draper. You put some 50-story buildings, and you're going to force other people out. It's reasonable to assume a desire to drive to Provo or Salt Lake City, despite having to drive through Draper. Are those developers so delusional that they believe not only can the city of Draper house the requisite number of people who will work in those buildings but they have discovered the answer to the question: "Who in their right minds would actually make Draper a destination?"
It also wasn't that long ago that we'd venture out to a great little Mexican restaurant on 12300 South for a bite and some beers. Here's a portion of what our City Weekly listings say about it: "Guadalahonky's is Draper's original Mexican restaurant and has been open since December of 1988, when most of the neighbors were cows."
Things change. The food remains stellar but the cows are gone. Guadalahonky's used to be a welcome respite along a sleepy road in a sleepy burg. Now, if you're not looking really hard, you can drive right by it, so surrounded is it by strip malls and crappy fast-food eateries. That's what's coming. More ticky-tack. Think Phoenix.
There's only one solution, really: Move Draper. The whole friggin town, just pick it up and move it. Take the prison and Mayor Walker, too, and just start over. Draper is a mess—can't get in and can't get out—and it will be a tax drain for decades, as roads and infrastructures are taxpayer built to accommodate the wild plans of developers who will sell out as soon as they can to the highest bidder. And the next bidder will do the same, until Ikea Land becomes reality.