Intent on keeping the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay announced Monday the city would offer the 99-acre proposed site in North St. Louis free of charge to the spy agency if it builds its new $1.6 billion western headquarters there.
Slay’s announcement, made during a morning press conference at St. Louis City Hall, appeared to flow from an attempt to match St. Clair County’s offer of free land for the 182-acre proposed site in St. Clair County, just west of and adjacent to Scott Air Force Base, for the new NGA West complex.
St. Louis has spent more than $7 million, mostly to buy land, to keep the NGA’s 3,100 jobs and the $2.4 million in earnings tax revenue they generate for the city each year. The city has valued the land at about $14 million and at one point proposed selling it to the federal government. Now it is offering it to the feds free of charge.
In addition, the state of Missouri plans to offer $131 million in financial assistance to bring the project to North St. Louis.
The state’s contribution includes $95 million in tax increment financing, plus about $36 million in brownfield tax credits.
What’s more, the city promises to provide an annual commitment of $1.5 million for 30 years — a total of $45 million —to pay for site acquisition and preparation costs, and utility relocation and improvements, according to a summary of benefits provided to the media by the city.
“We believe that St. Louis city is the best choice for NGA to fulfill its mission,” Slay said.
The NGA’s choice of North St. Louis for the new facility, to be called NGA West, “will catalyze the entire community,” Slay said, a step that “will revitalize all of the other parts of the urban core.”
On Friday, during a press conference at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the state would provide $116 million in road and other infrastructure upgrades if the NGA chooses the Illinois site.
NGA officials met with Illinois leaders and also with Slay and other Missouri officials who are working to keep the federal agency's headquarters in St. Louis. The NGA’s current home is located on the site of the nearly 200-year-old site of the St. Louis Arsenal, south of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. The U.S. government wants to move the NGA from its current home because it is too cramped and can’t provide sufficient security.
Nixon discounted arguments made by U.S Mark Kirk, R-Ill., that the St. Clair site would be preferable to the one in North St. Louis because the St. Clair County site would offer virtually unlimited room for future growth and greater security since it would be next to a military installation.
“It’s pretty obvious Sen. Kirk is running for re-election,” Nixon said, sparking laughter among dozens of city hall workers and media personnel crowded into a foyer outside the mayor’s office.
“There is only one site that offers everything that NGA needs,” Nixon said. “And that site is North St. Louis.”
The loss of NGA would be the second major blow to the economy and national image of St. Louis to occur in less than four months. In January, the owner of the NFL Rams announced he was moving the football team after a 21-year tenure back to Los Angeles.
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., who represents the district in North St. Louis surrounding the proposed NGA site, said one reason NGA should be built in North St. Louis would be to atone for the poor decisions that led to the construction and demise of Pruitt-Igoe — the 33-building public housing complex that opened in 1956 and that, by a decade later, had became a national symbol of crime and urban decay. The city tore down the housing project in 1972.
“The federal government owes us after the debacle of Pruitt-Igoe,” Clay said. NGA, he added, “is a chance to replace that failure.”
Clay emphasized that the proposed North St. Louis site is the best choice for the NGA.
“But it’s also the best choice for the marvelously talented people who work there, and for the thousands of new employees who will be recruited to work there in the future,” Clay said.
The days when talented young people wanted to commute 25, 35, 45 miles are over, Clay said.
“All across America, young, talented millennials who are part of the innovation generation want to live near work, live near restaurants, live near entertainment, near world-class cultural institutions,” he said. “And most importantly, the best and the brightest want to live near other centers of talent and creative energy. ...”
The NGA is a rapidly growing spy agency attached to the Defense Department that provides maps and other data tools based on satellite imagery to intelligence and military units, as well as to civilian agencies.
On Friday, news media outlets reported that the Department of Defense put an $801,000 in the 2017 defense budget for 182 acres for NGA West — a figure that mirrors the amount of land promised by St. Clair County.
David J. Berczek, a spokesman for the agency, said that NGA Director Robert Cardillo has not yet made a decision on the location, and that the budget item was nothing more than a “placeholder.”
The Army Corps of Engineers' recommendation on where the NGA should relocate won’t come until April 1. Cardillo is expected to make the initial announcement of where he wants to locate the NGA facility in the first week of April. His final decision is expected to follow before May 31.
One thing the North St. Louis site has that St. Clair County doesn’t is protestors. Six protesters holding signs calling for NGA to stay out of North St. Louis stood outside the office where Slay held Monday morning’s news conference.
Megan Betts, who lives with her family a few blocks outside the proposed North St. Louis site, said she moved into the neighborhood without the desire to live so close to a massive spy agency headquarters.
“If we knew where it was going to be, we would’ve reconsidered where we live,” said Betts, the spokeswoman for the group Save North Side STL. “It’s a target (for terrorists).”
Terry Chapman, another protestor, said he’s lived in the North St. Louis neighborhood for 40 years. He said he and his neighbors are of one mind regarding NGA:
“We don’t want NGA in our neighborhood,” Chapman said. “We want development in our neighborhood. I think that neighborhood is ripe for some good development, with housing and businesses. The way that everyone wants. I think they just are being real short-sighted. It makes you wonder what they’re thinking.”