All-union construction workforce on $1.7 billion project
By CARL GREEN
St. Louis – The expected impact of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new “NGA West” headquarters in St. Louis could be seen in the number of heavy hitters who turned out for its groundbreaking last week.
Their theme was that the community will be a bigger part of the agency’s work than it has before, in part because of public areas being built into the headquarters that could help make St. Louis into a national high-tech center.
The project is on track, with a budget of $1.7 billion and an all-union construction workforce. Preparation at the 97-acre site at Cass and Jefferson just north and west of downtown St. Louis has been going on for months, but the event Thursday signaled that the pace of construction will be picking up.
“This is a great day for St. Louis, one that has been several years in the making,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said. “This project is transformative for our city, creating thousands of construction jobs, forging new relationships with our community and with our local schools, bringing new businesses, business development and infrastructure improvements and catalyzing a geo-spatial eco-system that is driving the creation of new startups, building new connections with our academic institutions and building new connections with existing economic sectors.”
Krewson was one of 10 officials who spoke before some 500 participants, officials, residents and media packed into in a tent erected on the north side of Cass and east of Jefferson.
A joint venture of McCarthy Building Companies and HITT Contracting was earlier awarded the $711.7 million, all-union construction contract. Union officials expect up to 1,100 workers to be on the site, with work to be completed in 2024.
Krewson noted that site preparation included clearing 27 city blocks, saving 60,000 archeological artifacts and removing 830,000 tons of dirt and more than 30,000 cubic yards of streets and alleys.
“And all this work was done with nearly 40 percent minority-owned and 45 percent women-owned contractor participation,” she said. “That looks like our community.”
She thanked residents of St. Louis Place and surrounding neighborhoods for their cooperation and noted the work of former Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis Development Corp. Executive Director Otis Williams and Comptroller Darlene Green, saying each were essential to making the project happen and keeping NGA’s 3,100 workers here in the city. The agency announced in 2016 it would build its headquarters in St. Louis over many other competing bids. It is currently housed in aging buildings along Second Street in south St. Louis, some dating back 70 years.
‘OPENING NEW DOORS, DOING NEW THINGS’
Among the other speakers:
- Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said developing the geospatial intelligence installation in St. Louis will allow local universities and tech incubators to participate, creating a research and innovation center that will serve the city and the state.
“The geospace industry has a major impact on our economy and continues to grow in the St. Louis region,” he said. “Industry leaders are investing in the geospatial future of the region with new facilities and hiring initiatives.”
- U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay thanked President Barack Obama for his key role the selection of St. Louis as the site, noting that the Obama administration first designated the site as a promising development zone before awarding the project.
“President Obama believed, as I did, that this neighborhood is special and deserves a chance to make a comeback with a magnificent federal anchor facility like the new NGA,” Clay said. “The ammunition that will keep America safe in the 21st century is digital information.”
Clay also cited developer Paul McKee for having the vision to assemble the 97 acres of land, making the city’s bid possible, and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who visited here at Clay’s request and supported St. Louis’ bid.
“You immediately understood and believed in the future of this neighborhood and why NGA belonged here,” Clay told Schiff, who attended the event. “I will never forget what you did for St. Louis. You made a huge difference and we thank you.”
- Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers, described how the 712,000 square-foot main building will have an unusual attribute for a government intelligence facility – non-classified areas where community partners can come and work with NGA personnel on joint projects.
“This is a secure but flexible cutting-edge facility with space that really does facilitate information-sharing and collaboration with NGA of St. Louis’ gifted experts,” he said. “A special thanks to all the people of St. Louis for your belief in something as important as our nation’s security in supporting the NGA.”
- U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt noted that the NGA’s mapping facility has been in St. Louis since in 1840; that the national geospatial intelligence convention will be held here in two of the next five years; and that the NGA East counterpart facility in Springfield, Va., lacks the information-sharing space being built into NGA West.
“This is a day when the Gateway to the West also becomes the gateway to new kinds of communication,” he said. “It’s a great day for St. Louis, it’s a great day for jobs, it’s a great day for our community.”
- Joseph Maguire, acting U.S. director of national intelligence, committed to collaboration with the community at NGA West, making it the technology hub of the Midwest.
“In these spaces, we will increase the unclassified information and ‘intel’ we produce while reducing the amount of time it takes to do it,” he said. “We are absolutely committed to sharing that intelligence and expanding our partnerships in the private sector, in state and local governments, and also with our partners and allies abroad.”
“The American people expect the U.S. intelligence community to keep them safe, and I firmly believe that this facility will enable us to do just that,” he added.
- Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California), head of the House Intelligence Committee, said NGA West’s open spaces point the way to the future. “NGA will demonstrate that a more open collaborative environment is the future of intelligence processing, exploitation and dissemination,” he said.
Schiff quoted a noted Missouri native – Walt Disney – who once explained technological progress by saying, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Added Schiff: “That curiosity motivates every intelligence professional, particularly imagery analysts who want to see the deeper story. I look forward to the new paths down which your curiosity leads all of us.”