MSP talk met with guarded optimism in Jefferson City

‘It’s exciting and concerning’

In this News Tribune file photo from March 2012, work begins on demolishing the school, library and chapel buildings between A-Hall and McClung Hall on the old Missouri State Penitentiary site.

In this News Tribune file photo from March 2012, work begins on demolishing the school, library and chapel buildings between A-Hall and McClung Hall on the old Missouri State Penitentiary site. Photo by News Tribune.

Thursday was the best day Rep. Jay Barnes has had in the Legislature thus far in his nearly three-year legislative career.

Additional funding from state revenue growth has been earmarked for state office building construction at the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) Redevelopment Site.

Gov. Jeremiah Nixon announced and the House passed a two-year capital improvements bill, including $38 million “for planning, design and construction ... and renovation of the Missouri Department of Transportation Central Office.”

Barnes said Thursday that the new state office building would go on the MSP grounds.

“If the bill gets to the governor’s desk and the governor signs it, it will in all likelihood be the best day I have had as a state representative,” Barnes said in a Friday interview.

State Budget and Planning Director Linda Luebbering said Friday that many detail-specific decisions still need to be made.

For instance, there’s no decision yet on where the new office building would be located on the 142-acre MSP, which extends from Lafayette Street east to Ellis-Porter/Riverside Park and from Capitol Avenue north to the Missouri River.

And the projects aren’t guaranteed. The Legislature is being asked for appropriation authority, if the revenue growth continues. If the trend stops or slows down, she said, the state won’t spend money it isn’t receiving.

MSP Redevelopment Commission

Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) Redevelopment Commissioner Frank Burkhead said he was “very surprised” when he read in the Friday News Tribune that state funds may put a new state office building on that 142-acre site.

The commission has received no contact from the state in nearly a year. And although Burkhead had heard rumors of this proposal, he said it would have been nice to at least get a phone call or e-mail before the governor’s announcement Thursday.

Not knowing the proposed location on the MSP site, Burkhead referred to the December 2010 map from the governor’s office redefining sites as available for public or private development.

“It’s exciting and concerning,” Burkhead said.

Until a change in state leadership a few years ago, the commission had focused its efforts on attracting primarily private industry.

So far, the new construction on the site — vacated by inmates of the Jefferson City Correctional Center in 2004 — has been limited to public buildings.

Burkhead believes the desire from 2001, when the original House and Senate bills created the commission, also was to draw private investment.

For now, Burkhead said he is hopeful that the possible new construction, along with the coming construction of a Lafayette Street interchange with U.S. 50, might encourage further progress.

Burkhead looks forward to hearing an update from the state on this project.

“I do applaud the efforts of Sen. (Mike) Kehoe and representatives (Mike) Bernskoetter and Barnes,” Burkhead said. “They’ve done great work to get the money going in that area.”

Spurring growth in Jefferson City

Barnes touts the bill as being a tremendous boost to the local economy.

“We have $50 million for needed maintenance at the state Capitol and $38 million for a new state office building, which could kick-start development around it in the old Missouri State Penitentiary area,” said Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

The lawmaker has been a champion for redevelopment of the old MSP site since he first ran for office in 2010.

“I got $800,000 placed in the budget for it my first year, and then the governor line-item-vetoed that,” Barnes said. “So I didn’t try it in year two.”

This year, Barnes co-sponsored a bonding bill led by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, that outlined a list of projects, including some that would have affected MSP.

But he said when the revenue growth became apparent, the opportunity came open for some one-time expense things for necessary projects, not just for the redevelopment of Jefferson City, but for the official operation of state government.

While Barnes wasn’t part of the group of lawmakers that negotiated the capital improvements bill, he said he made sure his priorities were known.

“The way to get your priorities known is to consistently let the budget chair know what you think is important,” he said. “I certainly made my intention known and supported them throughout the entire deal, implying I thought it would be a good thing to do.”

He said he added an amendment to an economic development bill a couple of weeks ago that would have created tax credits for redevelopment of the old MSP site.

“That the body is aware of what’s going on there and the need for redevelopment there makes it easier to explain what’s in the budget bills that we just passed,” Barnes said.

He said the current bill doesn’t include any other projects for the MSP site.

“Repairing the historic structures on the site is important, but I’m not going to make perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.

The city reacts

Mark Schreiber, resident expert on the history of MSP and a former Department of Corrections deputy warden inside the MSP, said he was not surprised to hear the announcement.

When the conversation began in the late 1990s to move the inmates from the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi River to the modern Jefferson City Correctional Center, state offices were on the list for reuse of the site, Schreiber said.

A 2007 MSP redevelopment project timeline showed construction intentions for both the corrections central office and a “new state office building.”

“It was always in the master plan to make room for the state to build structures over there, if needed,” Schreiber said.

So far, new construction, like the state health lab, has followed the 2002 plan guidelines for exteriors to complement the historic nature.

Another state office building would bring positive attention to the site, where the designated historic structures are in serious need of maintenance, Schreiber said.

Housing Units 1, 3 and 4 have experienced decline due to lack of climate control, exposure to the elements and deteriorated roofs and windows.

Schreiber had intended to discuss the state of the MSP historic buildings at the April meeting of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission; however, it did not have a quorum. The topic is on the commission’s May agenda.

“If something isn’t accomplished to secure the roofs of the three most historic buildings, in a very short period of time they will be in such bad conditions we won’t be able to have the tours there,” Schreiber said.

Thousands of visitors and local residents annually have taken the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau Hard Hat Tours.

Ryan Burns, bureau communications manager, said it was positive to hear Barnes mention the importance of preserving historic sites, such as MSP.

“Knowing they have that as a priority is good,” Burns said.

She said any development outside of the historic preservation can only help further the growth of the area.

Jefferson City officials also are considering MSP as a possible conference center site, and one developer has submitted a proposal to use the historic site.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said she is not concerned about any conflict with potential city plans for a conference center on the site, as there is plenty of space for both state offices and a conference center. The important issue, she said, is that the city, state and county work together to preserve and invest in the MSP site and that any discussions of what to place on the site should keep in mind the overall needs of the community.

Mayor Eric Struemph agreed, saying the city and state must work together to ensure the “hidden gem” becomes the best it can be.

“It is very good news, matter of fact, it’s great news,” Struemph said of the Legislature’s bill.

Barnes is hopeful and confident the bill will pass the Senate and be signed by the governor yet this session.

“The Senate budget chair supports it,” he said. “Senator Kehoe most definitely supports it.

“I just hope it happens to get to the governor’s desk.”

Accompanying photo: 2012 demolition work at MSP

Related article:

What the capital improvements money does at the Capitol, and what are the bill's chance of passing

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