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Getting NGA to abandon St. Louis site would require a ‘game-changer,’ expert says

Drone footage of the planned NGA West Headquarters site in north St. Louis

A drone flies above the location the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency decided on for its future NGA West Headquarters in north St. Louis.
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A drone flies above the location the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency decided on for its future NGA West Headquarters in north St. Louis.

Even though a Southern Illinois congressman is calling on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to reconsider its choice of St. Louis for the future NGA West headquarters, it would be difficult to change the agency’s mind, an intelligence historian says.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who represents Illinois’ 12th Congressional District, called on the NGA to reconsider its decision to locate the agency’s future western headquarters in North St. Louis, and reiterated his support for an alternative location next to Scott Air Force Base.

Bost cited an ongoing legal battle between the city of St. Louis and developer Paul McKee, as well as a lawsuit filed against the city by one of the banks the developer used for financing. Bost also questioned whether St. Louis had a clean deed for the 99 acres it plans to hand over to the federal government. The bank’s lawsuit against St. Louis claims the city tricked the financial institution “into agreeing to release its liens on the NGA property and allowing NorthSide to transfer the TIF revenues to support the project.”

There also is a lawsuit filed by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office against McKee alleging tax credit fraud.

It is probably too late to try to change the NGA’s mind on the location for the future NGA West headquarters, but if it were to happen, it would be the result of some type of huge “game-changer,” said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian based in Washington, D.C.

“The decision has been made, presumably the Army Corps of Engineers has blueprints, all ready to go for the new facility,” Aid said. “I don’t know how advanced planning is, but it seems the horse has already bolted, and you’re out trying to close the door of the barn.”

The FBI has been looking for a site to build a new headquarters, and searches have included suburban sites near Washington, D.C.

However, a planned location for the FBI site in Virginia was canceled. One of the issues was a lack of a Metro stop, which would lead to higher costs for creating parking, Aid said. There also is light industrial property surrounding it, with no restaurants or other amenities.

“It would have been a hard sell for the employees,” Aid said.

Aid wouldn’t place odds on the NGA changing its mind.

“There has to be a major disincentive,” Aid said. “Something has to come along that is a game-changer and forces a reconsideration, and it has happened.”

He added, “Congressman Bost may think he has something to offer NGA that the North St. Louis site doesn’t, but it’s hard to see at this point.”

Aid said he doesn’t believe the land issues involving McKee would slow down the process of moving NGA to North St. Louis.

The move earlier this week by Bost also could have some political benefits for the second-term Republican, who is up for re-election in a district that is considered a toss-up.

“Does Bost have the kind of reach where he can maybe pull out somebody in the Trump administration who will put pressure on NGA to consider re-evaluating their choice of North St. Louis, (and) move it to a Republican district, albeit a marginal one at best?” Aid said. “With midterms and the 2020 election coming up, it would be a big feather in the congressman’s hat if he managed to get NGA to move across the river.”

Aid added that that site-clearing is already moving along at the St. Louis location.

“In previous administrations, once the momentum starts, it’s really hard to stop these things,” Aid said. “It’s happened, but usually because they’ve discovered something which they didn’t take into consideration when they were doing the preliminary surveys and evaluations. I think it would take something pretty serious, at least at a technical level.”

City of St. Louis spokesman Koran Addo said the mayor’s office would not comment directly on Bost’s letter.

“We feel the decision has been made and we’re looking forward to turning over the land to the federal government,” Addo said.

Addo reiterated the 99 acres of land in St. Louis is already owned by the city, and the city is on track for being able to turn over the land. The land is being cleared and prepared for the construction of the headquarters, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

Addo said he couldn’t comment in an in-depth manner on the McKee issues because of the ongoing litigation. The city had initially approved a Northside Regeneration Agreement, along with public financing, with McKee in order to redevelop a large portion of the property. Last month the city announced its intention to terminate the agreement.

“It’s the city’s contention he is in default,” Addo said.

Bost has been an advocate for locating the future NGA West headquarters on land next to Scott Air Force Base. However, in 2016, the NGA opted to build its new headquarters in North St. Louis.

In a prepared statement, the NGA reiterated it is committed to the St. Louis site.

“NGA followed a rigorous site-selection process to identify and evaluate potential candidate sites for the new campus construction which resulted in the selection of the St. Louis location,” said NGA spokeswoman Nancy M. Rapavi. “The decision-making process and ultimate site selection were also reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Inspector General, the Department of Defense Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office.”

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