Escape to Jefferson City

There is a light at the end of the escape tunnel. Since the historic prison opened in 1836, there has been a fascination of what happened behind the walls of the Missouri State Penitentiary. What a story our community has to tell!

The area surrounding MSP was once thriving with grand homes and industry, but over time, the area became blighted and undesirable, and many of the private homes were showing years of disrepair. But drive down Capitol Avenue today and you will see a renaissance of redevelopment starting to happen. New sidewalks, period lighting, streetscape trees — and those homes will soon be subject to requirements complying with code regulations to allow for revitalization. Each home has a story and a place in Jefferson City’s unique history. So what is going on with prison redevelopment?

The Prison Redevelopment Bill passed the Senate and House, and SB 486 was signed by Governor Eric Greitens in July on the prison grounds. This bill allows the state to convey a portion of the property (approximately 31 acres out of 128 total acres on the site) to the city for redevelopment, using the state’s master plan as a guide. This plan includes a parkway, civic space, and hotel, all with a historic setting and a view of the river.

When browsing the master plan, you can feel the excitement, the potential for such a unique site, summed up by a quote cited in the plan: “Someday this will be a cool place to go!” 

Well, it already is! Now, the land conveyance expected in the master plan is not just a dream; it’s coming true. 

It’s in the numbers of visitors to the site, with tour members growing from 3,000 in 2009 to 33,000 in 2016, and attendance at the new MSP Museum, which grew from 752 to almost 7,000 over four years. That historic area will remain mostly untouched by development and will continue to host tours and events, including the very successful Concert Inside the Walls, which has featured Travis Tritt and Wynonna Judd. Mark your calendars for June 30 for the third annual Concert Inside The Walls!

If only those walls could talk, right? Well, they sorta already do. You can hear conversations blending the natural with the supernatural, the past and the future, history and creativity and arts and entertainment and parks and trails and storytelling and learning. 

This site has it all. It borders Riverside Park, the Missouri River, historic Capitol Avenue, and the new Lafayette Interchange. Everything is aligning for success. Next steps include the city, county, state, chamber of commerce, and convention and visitors bureau joining forces to work toward selecting a developer so the dreams of the past can become a reality for our future. We don’t have to reinvent our city — we just have to reinvigorate what we already have, embrace our history as our future, and enjoy the “escape” to Jefferson City!