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Mold at MSP cancels 2013 tours

Mold at MSP cancels 2013 tours

October 2nd, 2013 in News

Many of the buildings at the former Missouri State Penitentiary sit in disrepair after a decade of being exposed to the elements. (Nov. 2012 file photo)

Photo by Julie Smith

Tours at the old Missouri State Penitentiary have been canceled for the rest of 2013 season because of mold found in the prison buildings.

Last week, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, or CVB, announced a temporary cancellation of prison tours that was expected to end Thursday. At the time, the CVB said the state was assessing some site issues.

Ryan Burns, communications manager at the CVB, said Tuesday the site issues being assessed were mold issues and the state was at the site to perform testing. She said the CVB met with officials from the Office of Administration, which oversees the site, Monday and found out the tours would not be able to resume for the rest of the year.

"They completed the necessary mold testing," Burns said. "At this point, we have been prohibited from entering the buildings on the site."

The testing performed at the site was done because of concerns expressed by CVB staff members who noticed a "heightened musty smell" in the summer and brought the issue to the Office of Administration, Burns said.

"This year, we thought it was a little bit worse than it had been in previous years," Burns said. "We just felt that we had a responsibility to our staff and to people that were coming on tours to voice our concerns at the time, which we did."

Burns said the CVB had to cancel tours for 500 people in the past week alone and will have to cancel tickets already purchased by about 2,500 others for the rest of the season. Cancellation notices, she said, will begin to be sent out today.

A number of people who had planned tours at the prison were coming to the area from out of state, Burns said, and though CVB officials are still working on estimates, an early guess was that roughly 10 percent would have spent money on a hotel stay in the city.

"The hoteliers have been very cooperative working with us, of course, because they know that this is out of the control of the visitors that were coming to Jefferson City," Burns said.

The CVB will face some lost revenues, Burns said, but there are no estimates right now of how much that will be. The tours only recently became profitable, where revenues exceed expenditures at the prison, and most of the profits are poured back into the prison site to prepare for tours.

In order for the CVB to regain access to the site, the state will have to do something about the mold, which most likely would require a financial investment in the property to either clear the mold or demolish the buildings, though Misti Preston, spokeswoman for OA, did not answer questions Tuesday about the state's plans moving forward.

"The Office of Administration has suspended access to the Missouri State Penitentiary. At the recent request of the Jefferson City Visitors and Convention Bureau, the state performed testing that led to the suspension. The Office of Administration will continue further discussions with the Visitors and Conventions Bureau as we move forward," Preston said in an email.

Burns said CVB officials are optimistic that the process will "lead to a positive shift for the site and for the future prolonged continuation of the tours."

"We're hoping that it's going to lead to further discussion of rehabilitation of the site," Burns said. "We're definitely not just throwing in the towel ... The Missouri State Penitentiary has served as an excellent tool to put Jefferson City on the map for visitors all around the world that may never have stumbled across our community."

Burns said the CVB will issue a statement on the tour cancellations to customers, staff and media today.

"We are going to continue working with the state," Burns said. "As far as the 2014 tour season, we are incredibly hopeful that tours will resume at that time."