Metro-East News

Illinois lawmakers react with skepticism to St. Louis, Missouri incentive package to keep NGA

St. Louis offers free land to NGA

St. Louis mayor Francis Slay announced Monday at the city will offer NGA land at no cost. St. Louis and St. Clair County are among the groups competing to land the spy agency.
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St. Louis mayor Francis Slay announced Monday at the city will offer NGA land at no cost. St. Louis and St. Clair County are among the groups competing to land the spy agency.

St. Louis and Missouri leaders banded together Monday to offer to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency a package of incentives totaling $190 million — enough they hope to convince the spy agency’s top boss to move its new $1.6 billion headquarters to a blighted neighborhood in North St. Louis.

But U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, like other Illinois lawmakers contacted for comment, was unimpressed with the St. Louis/Missouri package, insisting the rival St. Clair County site being considered — a 182 acres of pasture and cornfields adjacent to Scott Air Force Base — is the option.

The St. Clair County site is the best of the four sites under official consideration in terms of site security, cost to the taxpayer and providing room to grow, according to Bost.

“We’ve got to look forward to the long-term mission of NGA,” Bost said. “Our site gives them the safety, the security and the ability to expand in the future to keep that safe and secure zone.”

Bost spoke a day after St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, flanked by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., unveiled a set of $131 million in state incentives that included $95 million in tax increment financing and $36 million in brown fields credits. In addition, the city promised to turn over the 99-acre site, valued at $14 million, to NGA without charge and to allocate $1.5 million per year for 30 years for improvements to the proposed 99-acre North St. Louis site — a total package worth about $190 million.

The St. Louis/Missouri incentive package stems from their strong desire 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 joint St. Louis-Missouri proposal was unveiled three days after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner met at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport with U.S. senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. to announce $116 million in road and other infrastructure upgrades if the NGA chooses the Illinois site. That’s in addition to St. Clair County’s offer of 182 acres of free land, plus another 200 free acres if needed — a gift to the federal government worth an estimated $10 million.

Also attending that meeting on Friday was NGA Director Robert Cardillo, who is scheduled to make his preliminary choice for the new NGA facility — a choice that’s come down to a contest between the North St. Louis and St. Clair County sites— on April 1, with the final record of decision made before May 31.

Durbin, in response to the St. Louis/Missouri proposal, issued a statement Tuesday stating that St. Clair County ““has presented a bid to house the new NGA West facility that is superior in every respect, including cost, community support, and workforce benefits.”

While St. Louis and Missouri leaders have emphasized NGA’s importance as a way to re-vitalize a neighborhood beset by crime and vacant house, Durbin emphasized that Cardillo’s decision will be based on what’s best for national security.

“But ultimately, the choice of where to locate this high-tech intelligence agency must come down to what is best for our national defense, the command, and its ability to carry out its mission,” Durbin wrote. “On that basis, especially, St. Clair County is the clear choice.”

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 $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.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, issued a statement in which he said he continues “to believe that the St. Clair County site is the superior location for the NGA. Its proximity to Scott AFB alone provides the best opportunity to improve our anti-terrorism operations and ultimately keep Americans safe.”

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, noted that cost is one aspect that NGA should consider in their plans to build a new western headquarters, while many other factors are as important, “such as building security and buffer zones and the security of data transmitted via cable to the military — at Scott Air Force Base.”

Shimkus had little sympathy for St. Louis Mayor Slay and U.S Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr.’s argument, made Monday, that NGA should be located in North St. Louis to provide a long overdue boost in job creation and economic development.

“Economic development is not a consideration important to NGA’s mission,” Shimkus said.

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.

Four sites are officially under consideration: the St. Clair County and North St. Louis sites, in addition to sites in Mehlville, Mo., and Fenton, Mo. Since last autumn, however, the competition has come down to the North St. Louis and St. Clair County locations.

The federal government plans to begin construction on the new NGA in early 2017, with completion of the 800,000 square-foot building set for 2021.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000