The big day is almost here.
After nearly two years of waiting, wondering and concern, metro-east leaders are set to find out whether a St. Clair County site next to Scott Air Force Base is the favored location of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new $1.6 billion western headquarters.
The announcement is expected late Thursday or early Friday.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, whose district sits next to the proposed Scott site, said the choice is clear.
“I still believe Illinois is the hands-down favorite,” Meier said. “I’m really optimistic it should be us, but nothing is over until the fat lady sings.”
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said he believes elected officials in Illinois have made a strong case — but he’s also hoping for a little luck.
“I feel comfortable that there’s nothing more the county, the state, local business leaders, local political leaders, and the governor ... could have done,” Hoffman said. “I think the case has been made. I’m not a superstitious person, but I’m crossing my fingers.”
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said he thinks the Illinois offer is a home run and the only thing that could stop is a good outfielder stretching his glove over the fence.
“If I could cross my toes, I would,” Dunstan said. “I’ll cross my fingers.”
I feel comfortable that there’s nothing more the county, the state, local business leaders, local political leaders, and the governor ... could have done. I think the case has been made. I’m not a superstitious person, but I’m crossing my fingers.
State Rep. Jay Joffman
Officially, four sites are still in the running for what is being called NGA West: Two are located in St. Louis County — Fenton, Mo., and Mehlville, Mo. — while the third is in North St. Louis. The fourth candidate site is a 182-acre patch of farmland and scattered trees owned by St. Clair County and just west of Scott Air Force Base’s northwest boundary, south of Interstate 64.
Since last autumn, however, the competition really came down to the 99-acre proposed site in North St. Louis and the St. Clair County site. For the leaders of the area where the winning site is located, whether St. Louis or St. Clair County, the potential impact of the new NGA facility are vast and long-lasting: More than 3,100 jobs will show up, each paying an average of $83,000 annually, with the prospect of many more jobs materializing in the years ahead as NGA continues to grow and pursue an increasingly diverse range of missions.
Here’s what you need to know:
How will the recommendations be announced?
Are Friday’s recommendations the final decision?
Friday’s recommendations regarding a new home for NGA’s western headquarters will come from two places: the Environmental Protection Agency and NGA itself. The EPA’s environmental-impact assessment is being conducted on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers. Both the EPA and the NGA staff will submit their recommendations to Robert Cardillo, the NGA director.
Cardillo is set to make the final decision on NGA by either late May or early June. Between Friday and the end of May, members of the public will be invited to submit their views on the recommendations to the NGA staff.
Construction is expected to start in early 2017 and be completed by 2022.
What is the NGA?
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is a fast-growing spy agency attached to the U.S. Defense Department that uses satellite imagery to make maps and other tools for America’s military and intelligence organizations, as well as for civilian federal agencies.
NGA, with a nearly $5 billion annual budget, has one of the biggest job descriptions in the federal government. It provides maps and other data to all facets of the military and intelligence communities, as well as digital tools that help civilian agencies perform a wide range of tasks — from using social media to chart the movement of refugees from the Middle East to Europe, to locating new energy resources in the thawing Arctic regions.
The agency even was instrumental in the demise of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Where does NGA have headquarters now?
The NGA has two headquarters. Its main headquarters is located in a nearly 2.8 million-square-foot building located at the Fort Belvoir Army base, in Springfield, Va.
NGA’s current western headquarters, which houses 3,100 workers, is located on the grounds of the old St. Louis Arsenal, just south of downtown St. Louis.
Why does NGA want to move from its current St. Louis headquarters?
The NGA’s current home at the old St. Louis arsenal is nearly 190 years old. Two of the buildings it operates from date from the Civil War era. The U.S. Air Force has owned this property since the late 1940s.
The NGA needs a much bigger facility with room for state-of-the-art technology, to house its growing workforce, to provide better security and to accommodate future growth. It also badly needs modern infrastructure such as power lines and air-conditioning for high-speed computers to handle a mission that continues to expand and evolve in complexity.
Top Pentagon leaders developed plans a decade ago to move the NGA’s west headquarters from St. Louis to St. Clair County, next to Scott. But Congress didn’t allocate funds for the move at that time.
What sort of incentives have St. Clair County and St. Louis offered to bring NGA West to their communities?
St. Clair County last fall upped the ante by offering the 182-acre site, plus another 200 acres if needed, to NGA free of charge — a gift worth an estimated $10 million. In addition, in early March, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the state would provide $116 million in road and other infrastructure upgrades if the NGA chooses the Illinois site.
For its part, 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. The city also promised 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.