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Our Opinion: Acting to reverse ruination at MSP site

For historic preservationists, time and money may be equally precious commodities.

Jefferson City’s Historic Preservation Commission decided Monday to seek expedited action on the vacant Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) site.

Time is of the essence because historic properties on the site are deteriorating in the absence of repairs and maintenance.

MSP historian and commission member Mark Schreiber was not engaging in hyperbole when he observed some prison structures “will not last another five years.”

Renovations cost money, and — at this juncture — money from the state, which owns the property, is not forthcoming.

The city is nearing completion of a lean budget, but — even if it had surplus funds — it would face the predicament of improving a property it does not own.

Jefferson City, however, does benefit from popular MSP tours, hosted by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. Those tours help boost lodging tax revenues, which — in turn — advance the city’s long-time dream to attract a convention center.

In the absence of renovations, unsafe conditions may end those tours, which will result in a decrease in visitors, revenues and an incentive for convention center developers.

Jefferson City’s dual dilemma — a lack of funding and a tightening time frame — is further compounded by a question of authority. Although the state has created the MSP Redevelopment Committee to manage the site, the group has not met since October 2012 and now has four vacancies.

What can the Historic Preservation Commission do?

The program of action outlined at its Monday meeting is practical.

The group will invite state officials to its October meeting. In advance, commissioners at their September session will outline concerns, questions and suggestions.

In addition, and perhaps most important, the group will explore what other state-owned properties have been preserved and maintained by private organizations. Perhaps most notable is oversight of the Governor’s Mansion by Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc.

Inertia is a death knell for historic structures at the prison site. While officials remain idle, nature and its elements threaten continued deterioration.

Credit the Historic Preservation Commission with attempting to reverse ruination.

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