Our Opinion: Governor’s inaction stalls MSP project

Executive inaction has extended inertia at the Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment site.

The 10-member MSP Redevelopment Commission established to oversee redevelopment at the site includes: four members appointed by Missouri’s governor; and three appointees each from Jefferson City and Cole County. The four seats to be filled by the governor now are vacant, following the recent resignation of the commission chairman.

As a consequence, the commission is stuck in a holding pattern, often unable to muster a quorum for meetings.

Gov. Jay Nixon admittedly is busy these days as the legislative session nears Friday’s deadline.

The commission’s inertia, however, precedes the legislative session. And if the governor has not exactly stalled progress, he has shown little interest in encouraging action, or even facilitating it by filling vacancies.

When discussion began in the early 2000s about vacating the aging Missouri State Penitentiary, the excitement surrounding redevelopment prospects was palpable.

The commission was created by state statute to oversee redevelopment based on a master plan for the 142-acre site overlooking the Missouri River.

The master plan includes: historic preservation of key prison facilities; public development; private development; entertainment and river access; and a natural area.

Some development has occurred, including construction of a federal courthouse and state office building, but fulfillment of the master plan remains in its infancy.

Although the law creating and empowering the commission appears clear, some issues of oversight, authority and ownership remain unsettled.

For example, the statute gives the commission power to acquire the title to the property. As a practical matter, however, questions remain about whether the state or commission control the property.

Prolonged inaction at the site has dampened enthusiasm and motivation, allowed continued deterioration of historic properties and delayed progress on redevelopment.

The commission, created by state government, essentially has been rendered powerless by the state’s governor.

The panel cannot seek clarity concerning the scope of its authority until it establishes its identity. And it cannot do that with four vacancies, all from state government.

Inertia will continue unless and until the governor fills those seats.

We encourage Nixon to do so or explain why not.

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