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Redevelopment planned for area around former Missouri prison

City leaders in Missouri’s capital are hoping that new legislation will help rejuvenate the state’s former prison and the largely dilapidated area around it.

Gov. Eric Greitens signed a measure last week turning over 32 acres of state-owned land to Jefferson City.

The city plans to build roads, hotels and new housing in the shadow of the old Missouri State Penitentiary, which closed in 2004.

“It can help us to create more jobs with higher pay to attract people to the area,” Greitens said.

Known as the “Big House,” the former prison opened in 1836, more than a century before Alcatraz, a famous prison on an island in the San Francisco Bay that held about 300 inmates. Missouri held about 5,200 prisoners in the facility that overlooks the Missouri River. The prison had seen more than 2,000 deaths before its closing.

Jefferson City was considered a manufacturing hub because of the prison’s cheap inmate labor.

The former prison now holds history tours during the day and ghost tours at night.

Republican Rep. Mike Bernskoetter said the legislation is a “great day” for his hometown.

“Not only will this investment in this project help the city, it will also help the state because we know the people who come here to tour the prison don’t just come here to tour the prison” he said. “They go to Branson. They go to a Cardinal ballgame. It’s going to help the whole state.”

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