Our Opinion: Imperfect, but reasonable agreement on MSP site

News Tribune editorial

The agreement to repair and reopen historic Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) buildings may not be unassailable, but it is strong enough to withstand criticism.

Tours of the state-owned MSP redevelopment site were suspended in September after an inspection found mold in buildings. The mold was a consequence of leaking roofs and continuing deterioration.

The tours, conducted by Jefferson City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), had proved popular and also had become profitable.

Under the agreement announced Wednesday, the state and city will split the estimated $2 million renovation cost evenly.

State expenses will come from Office of Administration funding for repairs and maintenance; legislative approval is not required. Jefferson City proposes to tap half-cent, capital improvements sales tax money targeted for road projects at MSP. The City Council approved the expenditure at a special meeting Thursday.

And therein is the foundation for criticism — how can the city justify spending $1 million on a property it does not own?

The answer is found in a more basic question — are the deteriorating MSP buildings worth saving?

We believe so, for a number of reasons.

First, the structures not only are historic, the site has become what Gov. Jay Nixon characterized as an “iconic Jefferson City landmark.”

Second, the tours have become immensely popular and have contributed to the local economy. The site hosted a variety of tours, has served as destination for television programming and a movie location.

City officials would have difficulty engaging in a serious convention center discussion if they neglect a premiere attraction for visitors.

Finally, although the site is not owned by the city, it is centrally located near the downtown area. And, under the new agreement, the state will contract with the CVB to conduct tours for 15 years, with extension options.

Critics also may challenge whether the city capital improvements category for MSP was specifically intended for roads, not building remediation.

Clearly, the city demonstrated an interest in the MSP site when it proposed the tax, and the language appears flexible enough to allow tax dollars to be channeled to remediation. If the buildings deteriorate and eventually disintegrate, a road no longer leads to that tourist attraction.

In the final analysis, the MSP buildings deserve to be repaired and preserved, the city and state both have an interest in that process, and we cannot envision another funding source that would be immune from criticism.

In this case, an elusive perfect solution must not be the enemy of a reasonable, workable agreement.

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