Governor Jay Nixon has announced an agreement between the State and Jefferson City that aims to reopen the historic Missouri State Penitentiary to tours by spring, and a potential long-term agreement between the city and state for use of the prison site.
Tours of the decommissioned prison were halted in September when excessive levels of mold were recorded. The agreement would cover renovations of four buildings deemed historic, Housing Units 1, 3, 4 and the Gas Chamber, to stop further mold development plus remediation of the mold that’s there, up to a cost of $2-millon split evenly between the City and the State.
Nixon anticipates a quick turnaround on the work.
“The goal is to begin tours once again in the spring,” Nixon said.
The State’s share comes from funds already budgeted for facilities maintenance and repair. The City would spend money out of a capital improvement half-cent sales tax passed several years ago intended for projects including development in and around the prison.
The Jefferson City Council must still vote to approve the expenditure. That vote will happen at a special meeting tomorrow night at 5:30 at City Hall.
Nixon says this use of state money is justified to bolster Missouri tourism.
“The Missouri State Penitentiary is an iconic Jefferson City landmark that attracts thousands of visitors each year. While they’re here these visitors eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and explore the other outstanding attractions in the area creating jobs and generating economic activity throughout the region.”
He also defended having Jefferson City expend money on a state-owned property.
“I think that with the economic benefit that the City will see and the clear marketing strategy that the City and the (Jefferson City Convention and) Visitor’s Bureau have already laid out, that this is one in which we wanted to be helpful with them … we just think this is the best way for us to be responsible stewards of the dollars but to work with the Capital City here.”
The Council will also vote on, and the Governor also announced, a 15-year use agreement governing the management of the site that could be extended twice for 5 years each.
That agreement would allow the City to continue tours of the historic prison, to establish a museum, gift shop and coffee bar in the 145-year-old Housing Unit 4, to hold social gatherings and events at the site and to allow film or video requests. The agreement states that “public tours shall emphasize and focus on the historic nature of MSP.”
Under the agreement the City will cover expenses with the proceeds from tours and other events at MSP and use the remaining income to make repairs and improvements to the site, as approved by the state’s Division of Facilities Management, Design & Construction.
Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson explained that roof repair, window repair and then remediation of the site will begin quickly. He tells Missourinet, “We are in the process right now of finalizing our testing and we should have those results hopefully even this week, and then the plan is to go out to bid and move forward with the construction phase … once the buildings are encapsulated and the weather stays out of them, the final phase will be remediation and then we’ll be good to go.”
Visitor’s Bureau Director Diane Gillespie was visibly relieved by the announcement. She took in January her position at the Bureau, which has been conducting tours of the site since 2009.
She says, “It’s the first step. We still have a lot of process to go through … but we’re all talking. We’re all sitting down working together.”
She doesn’t know when the Bureau will begin booking more tours for 2014. She says, “The next step is to sit down and try to put a timeline together as to will we be ready to go in March, which is normally when our tour season starts. March is always kind of an iffy month for us because of the weather so if it’s April, then we’ll take April.”
Nixon credited Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) with persistence and hard work in bringing State and city officials together on the issue. Nixon said of Kehoe, “When a lot of folks point fingers in public service and find excuses to not get things done, Senator Kehoe is a fine example of somebody who likes to get things done.”
Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) couldn’t be at the hearing while the committee on Medicaid that he chairs was meeting. He tells Missourinet, “I think it’s a great step forward for the City of Jefferson and the State of Missouri. I’m hopeful that we can get things fixed.” He called the pending agreement, “Good for the entire state.”