Metro-East News

State sweetens pot for NGA move to St. Clair County with $116 million in incentives

The state of Illinois will provide $116 million in roadwork and improvements in utilities if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency moves its western headquarters from St. Louis to St. Clair County.

Of the $116 million, the majority — $113 million — is earmarked for road improvements, including a new Reider Road interchange estimated to cost $43 million.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the incentive Friday at Mid-America Airport, at a news conference alongside U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

Durbin, the assistant Democratic leader in the Senate, said he has personally spoken with President Barack Obama about moving the NGA headquarters to St. Clair County.

Meantime, the Defense Department has put $801,000 as a line item in the 2017 defense budget to purchase 182 acres of land for the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency complex — a description that matches the site set aside by St. Clair County next to Scott Air Force Base.

The line item does not mention St. Clair County specifically, and neither local nor NGA officials would confirm that the money is specifically earmarked for the Scott Air Force Base site.

A spokesman for the agency, Sam Wilson, told the News-Democrat that NGA Director Robert Cardillo hasn’t made a decision yet, and that the budget line item is just a “placeholder.”

The 2017 Department of Defense budget for military construction contains a line item for the new NGA West complex, which will be built to replace the current NGA site in South St. Louis.

Page 104 of the 213-page budget document shows that the DOD is planning to buy 182 acres. The cost includes $1,000 for the actual purchase and $800,000 for “supervision, inspection & overhead.”

St. Clair County has offered to give 182 acres of land near Scott Air Force Base, adjacent to St. Louis-MidAmerica Airport, free of charge to the NGA to relocate its headquarters there.

Wilson, the NGA spokesman, told the News-Democrat that the $801,000 line item does not mean that the agency will definitely move to Illinois. The budget did not name where the land is located.

Sen. Mark Kirk’s office agreed.

Kirk and others, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, are scheduled to meet with Cardillo on Friday afternoon at Scott to discuss the NGA relocation. Rauner is expected to announce state incentives to attract NGA to Illinois.

Cardillo also plans to meet with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay at a later time and location. A site in North St. Louis still is in the running to be the next home of NGA West.

The official announcement on where NGA will move to will be in early April.

The NGA is a secretive spy agency attached to the U.S. Defense Department that uses satellite imagery to make maps and other data tools for America’s military and intelligence organizations, as well as for civilian federal agencies.

If it comes to St. Clair County, the NGA project will be one of the biggest projects in metro-east history. Construction of the 800,000-square-foot building will create 15,000 temporary construction jobs in addition to 3,100 permanent jobs.

Experts predict NGA West could be the first of other intelligence and defense agencies drawn to St. Clair County, bringing potentially thousands more jobs to the region in the years ahead.

Construction on NGA West is set to begin in early 2017, with the project completed by 2021.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel