It was good to see the political leaders gathered Monday and singing from the same sheet music: “Land, spreading out, so far and wide. Keep St. Louis just give me that countryside.”
The East Side Crooners sweetened the deal significantly to attract the new, $1.6-billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency facility and its 3,100 jobs to a site at Scott Air Force Base. There was already 182 acres worth $5.5 million being offered for free by St. Clair County. They added 200 acres.
Match up that offer — nearly 400 acres free and clear — against the City of St. Louis still scrambling to cobble together 100 acres, and it is a no-brainer on that factor alone. St. Clair County wins.
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The NGA mandates that there be at least 100 acres owned by a single entity. The City of St. Louis just spent $5 million to buy debt so it could control properties outside their proposed North St. Louis site, just to get leverage on the $130 million worth of properties they need. That, foreclosures on developer Paul McKee, eminent domain issues and a 100,000-signature petition against the North St. Louis site have them facing a Rube Goldberg process that is likely to yield years of legal entanglements instead of the single owner they need by March.
We win based on land, but then there is also functionality and security. Scott is home to two commands that are significant customers for NGA, and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has pointed out that reducing the 20-mile data cable that exists now to a few hundred yards vastly boosts security, not to mention having a controlled military base as your neighbor instead of a warren of neighborhoods, crack houses, shuttered sites and broken infrastructure.
St. Clair County also offers interstate and MetroLink access for those 3,100 workers. There are quality residential properties, good schools and room to grow here. There is a significant, educated population that has protected and sees protecting our national defense as one of their core values.
You cannot put a Band-Aid on the racial problems of Ferguson and poverty of North St. Louis by dumping millions of federal dollars on a site that makes no sense. Local leaders and our congressional delegation appear to be delivering a strong refrain: St. Clair County is the only logical choice.