Community Development News
MSP tours make area a destination
Published: Friday, September 26, 2014
By: Mark Mehmert
On August 19, Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Diane Gillespie was all smiles. The function was a press conference to announce the resumption of full tours of the MSP facility, and it was a day which was long in the making.
At the end of September of 2013, the CVB temporarily suspended all tours of the historic prison site due to the discovery of a significant mold problem. Later, those same mold issues forced the CVB to cancel the remainder of the 2013 tours.
“Those were difficult days, but we immediately started working with the Office of Administration to determine what could be done to get the tours back up and running safely”, remembered Gillespie. “It was difficult, but it was the right thing to do.”
The CVB staff worked with the Office of Administration, our local state legislative delegation of State Senator Mike Kehoe, Representative Jay Barnes, Representative Mike Bernskoetter, Mayor Eric Struemph, the City Council as well as city and Chamber staff to formulate a solution to the problem.
The result was a 15-year agreement for the CVB to operate Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) tours, with options for two five-year extensions. The city and the Office of Administration jointly funded the hazardous materials remediation and necessary repairs, which came in under budget.
Why go to extraordinary lengths to ensure not only that the MSP endures, but also that the tours continue? The short answer is, not only has MSP has been a fixture of our area since 1836 and is a part of the fabric of our area’s history—it’s also an economic engine.
It’s expected approximately 20,000 people will take a tour of MSP this season, and that’s in a construction and repair-shortened season.
The fact the MSP is a tourism draw is evident any Saturday during the tour season. If one were to take a drive by MSP, there are many vehicles from a vast array of states. Visitors tour the Missouri State Penitentiary and while they are in Jefferson City, they eat at our restaurants, purchase fuel at our gas stations, shop at our stores, likely overnight at our hotels, and more.
The MSP tours have wide appeal, drawing visitors from 37 States in the last full season, and even drawing international interest. For example, a couple from Sweden flew into St. Louis last year--however, St. Louis was not their destination. They specifically flew from Sweden to Missouri to tour the Missouri State Penitentiary.
While they were in Jefferson City, they toured the Capitol, Governor’s Mansion and Supreme Court, too. Jefferson City is not only America’s Most Beautiful Small Town,