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State hopes to make Missouri State Penitentiary a ‘world-class tourist destination’


The Missouri Office of Administration says it wants to make the Missouri State Penitentiary a "world-class tourist destination" if funding gets approved by the Senate.

According to the state's master plan, the project would include preserving the core buildings of the MSP for a historic district which would preserve the site, support tourism and educate the public about the prison's history.

The plan, released this spring, says, "The 500 ft. by 500 ft. site will preserve the most architecturally significant structures and create a walled-in prison feeling based on the scale of earlier iterations of the site."

The changes would include relocating the gas chamber from city property to state property, demolishing and repurposing part of the prison walls to create a symbolic wall feature and recreating a walled-in prison experience for tourists.

While the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has been hosting tour groups at the site since 2009, the master plan said these changes would enhance the guest experience. It said tours would include interactive technology, exhibits, a signature film, a museum store, concessions and the opportunity for self-guided tours.

Housing Unit 1, the current entrance to the MSP, will remain as the destination entrance. Upgrades will allow it to also house the museum, store and media experience. Modifications will also allow it to be ADA-compliant and heating and cooling will make the site usable throughout the entire year.

Other potential renovations for tourism include an event/group experience opportunity in Housing Unit 4.

The target opening date for these renovations is spring 2026, which would be the MSP's 190th anniversary.

The proposed timeline includes:

  • 2024 - creating construction documents and planning the museum and tours
  • 2025 - begin initial historic restorations and general construction
  • 2026 - target opening and continue historic restorations
  • 2027- finish historic restorations

The cost estimate is over $93 million.

The project will be done in two phases, with Phase 1 costing over $52 million and Phase 2 costing almost $41 million. The most expensive part of the project will include historic preservations to Housing Unit 1, the main entrance to the site.

Office of Administration spokesperson Chris Moreland said this week the state budget for Fiscal Year 2025 includes $15 million from the Facilities Maintenance Reserve Fund for remediation at MSP, but said additional changes could still be made on the Senate floor.

The state budget is due to the governor May 10.

Moreland said the $15 million could still allow the state to:

  • Further develop the site
  • Relocate the gas chamber to state property
  • Relocate prison walls and guard towers to state property
  • Make repairs to Housing Units 1, 3 and 4
  • Demolish Housing Unit 5

In 2023, the MSP had 29,059 visitors and generated $888,962 in revenue. The master plan estimates visitors could increase to around 150,000 people per year after renovations are made.

Alexandra Bobbitt with the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, which would continue guiding the tours at the site, said they support whatever changes will help preserve the MSP.

"We would love to see this place preserved for many years to come," Bobbitt said. "So, we are in support of a plan that will get us there to keep this tradition, these tours, alive for people all over to experience."

While Bobbitt said the MSP has visitors from all over the country and internationally, the Office of Administration study found the target market for tourists is those within a three-hour drive of the site, which includes over 7 million people.

"We have a lot of return visitors and I think their curiosity will be piqued again to see what we've done with the property, so I think it'd be very beneficial for our tours," Bobbitt said.

The Office of Administration worked with PGAV Destinations, a planning and design firm out of St. Louis, to create the master plan. It looked at market potential, site conditions and content research.

Article Topic Follows: Jefferson City

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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