Legislation transferring 32 acres of the old Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) to Jefferson City was signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens (R) on Tuesday.
Greitens signed the bill inside a housing unit at MSP, which was in operation for 168 years, from 1836 to 2004.
State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, the Majority Floor Leader, choked-up during the ceremony when he talked about the late State Sen. Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City, who worked on the MSP issue for years.
“(Former State Rep.) Bill Gratz, Carl Vogel worked on trying to take this prison site, the asset that it is, to the next step,” Kehoe says. “And without their efforts, quite frankly, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Vogel died from cancer in 2016. Former State Rep. Bill Gratz, D-Wardsville, served five terms in the House, leaving in 2002.
Greitens tells the audience this bill is about creating more jobs and progress.
“And what this conveyance does is it really gives us the opportunity to work with the city, to work with the (Cole) County, to help us to revitalize this property, and help to continue as the senator (Kehoe) said, some real tremendous progress here,” says Greitens.
Jefferson City plans to redevelop the historic property into a tourist attraction. Kehoe says tours at the old MSP have increased from about 3,000 to about 33,000 annually.
State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, says the investment will benefit the entire state, noting that people who tour MSP in Jefferson City also visit southwest Missouri’s Branson and St. Louis for Cardinal baseball.
Greitens was joined by five state lawmakers at Tuesday’s ceremony, including Kehoe and Bernskoetter. House Majority Caucus Chair Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, traveled from his western Missouri home to the event. Kolkmeyer describes himself to Missourinet as a “big economic development person.”
“The more economic development we can have, the more things that we can do to attract attractions, businesses, the more jobs that we can grow here in Missouri,” Kolkmeyer says.
State Reps. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, also joined Greitens at the MSP bill-signing.
Jefferson City Mayor Pro Tem Rick Prather, Jefferson City Administrator Steve Crowell and most of the City Council members attended. Former Jefferson City Mayors John Landwehr and Tom Rackers also attended.
Senator Kehoe praises Greitens, the Missouri House and Senate, the Office of Administration (OA), the city, county, Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau for their cooperation on the project.
Mayor Carrie Tergin calls this a “great day” for Jefferson City.
The transfer is expected to help complete the state master plan for the historic site. An interchange from Highway 50/63 to a street which provides direct access to the penitentiary was completed in 2016 for about $20 million.
The city is spending about $8 million to upgrade intersections in the site’s vicinity, and two state agencies already have buildings on the MSP site: the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Missouri State Health Laboratory.
Tergin says Jefferson City is the only city in the nation with a state Capitol, river and a historic prison.
Click here to listen to Missourinet news director Brian Hauswirth’s full 2:30 interview with State Sen. Mike Kehoe, which was recorded at the old MSP site in Jefferson City on July 11, 2017: