Repair work begins inside closed ‘Workhouse’ jail, future of facility unknown

Some real estate experts say the City of St. Louis is sitting on a multi-million dollar gold mine.
Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 10:19 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Some real estate experts say the City of St. Louis is sitting on a multi-million dollar gold mine.

And now, News 4 Investigates is getting an exclusive look inside the city jail that’s been closed for a year as the city makes significant upgrades to it.

News 4 took pictures of the cells, the block, solitary confinement, the cafeteria and the gym. The St. Louis jail was closed by controversy, but the general public hasn’t seen inside in half a decade.

Activists and some leaders had long called for the closure of the Medium Security Institution(MSI), known as the Workhouse, citing bad conditions, although not all city leaders agreed, then and still now.

“The current mayor made a mistake when she zeroed out the budget. Even if you were closing it, you still own the property, you have to keep it up, so that’s a mistake,” said Alderwoman Sharon Tyus at a recent meeting.

Some people have been critical that closing the workhouse strained the higher security City Justice Center.

Media weren’t allowed on a tour of the workhouse with leaders like Mayor Tishaura Jones, just before she made good a campaign promise in 2021 to empty it.

The last detainee left in May 2022 and ever since, it has sat empty. Grass is growing high, with debris left outside.

“It looks like something that needs a bulldozer, probably,” said Hal Hanstein.

What’s to become of MSI is of interest to Hanstein, owner of Cardinal Commercial Real Estate.

He says Hall street is a perfect locale for heavy industrial use.

“It’s a prime place for a trucking company to put a base of operation.

At News 4′s request, he did an assessment and ran the comps.

“If you do the math, the value is a little over $3 million,” said Hanstein.

“If you found the right buyer, would this place sell?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager.

“Oh yeah, without a doubt, if someone in the trucking industry knew it was available, it would be gobbled up,” he said.

But he was surprised by something News 4 told him: the city’s making significant repairs inside.

“Why maintain something if you’re going to tear it down, just call in the dozer?” said Hanstein.

In January, a pipe burst inside, causing a flood.

And in the many weeks since, the chains have been off the door and the door has been open, so News 4 went inside.

Remnants of the flood could be seen, but also work being done.

Blueprints were taped to the wall. There have been repairs to the electrical and even a new boiler.

A spokesperson for the St. Louis Mayor’s Office told News 4 that the work is assessed at $2 million so far for water damage and asbestos remediation, writing: “We expect additional costs as estimates come in to address electrical, mechanical, equipment and more.”

They further wrote, the office is in “conversation” with the building’s insurance company for the costs.

A statement saying: “The City is doing the minimum restoration on the building as we work with the community to reimagine the use for the MSI campus.”

“Taxpayers need to know what taxpayer money is being spent on,” said Benjamin Singer, CEO of ShowMe Integrity.

Singer says the city needs to decide: sell it and get cash or use it for something else.

“We need to make sure we are maintaining that and protecting the value that taxpayers own, otherwise we are being bad stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Singer.

One possible solution: overflow parking for the city’s tow lot, just a little down the road.

In Tuesday’s State of the City speech, Mayor Jones announced that citizens will get a say in what should happen to the old jail.

“I think this story is really important that KMOV is covering this, because you should contact city hall and let them know how you want this property to be used,” said Singer.

Do you want to weigh in on what to do with the old jail? Click here.