Four months ago, St. Louis was abuzz with debate over where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Administration was going to place its new western headquarters, called NGA West.
Would it be in a semi-abandoned neighborhood on the near north side of the city, on farm fields in St. Clair County, or at one of a couple of business sites in south St. Louis County? After that round of public meetings, the story went quiet for a while. But lately, with the NGA’s self-imposed deadlines coming closer, stirring of the pot has resumed.
Right now, the Department of Defense agency is waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete its final environmental impact statement, which is due by the end of March. It is to include the agency’s preferred alternative, unlike the preliminary impact statement last fall that listed pros and cons of each of four sites but did not identify a preferred location.
After the final statement is issued, NGA Director Robert Cardillo will then announce the decision after “no less than 30 days,” said Don Kerr, chief of the NGA News and Information Division. That means the decision will not come any earlier than the end of April but could take longer.
In fact, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, whose district includes St. Clair County, reports that Cardillo told him in a meeting that it could take until the end of May.
See previous coverage:
- St. Clair County doubles up on NGA land offer
- The NGA site needs, in their own words
- Meetings on Geospatial location draw big crowds
- Geospatial spy agency will provide plenty of work for somebody, but who will it be?
The $1.6 billion project is one of the biggest to come along in the St. Louis region in recent years, and the choice will have far-reaching implications on the city and the region. NGA needs a new facility to replace its location at the old St. Louis Arsenal on the riverfront south of downtown, where it employs about 3,100 well-paid workers who now pay the St. Louis city income tax. The federal government agency uses satellite technology for intelligence gathering.
If the agency were to move out of the city, the city would lose some $2.19 million a year in tax revenue, which it can hardly afford. The city has one location big enough to offer – 100 acres along the north side of Cass Avenue between Jefferson and 22nd Street, now about 70 percent emptied out but still containing a few homes, churches and businesses.
Building there would place a large economic engine into a downtrodden part of the city, so city officials are speaking of it revitalizing the north city. It’s across Cass from the site of the failed Pruitt-Igoe housing project.
The site’s main competition seems to be the one in St. Clair County, 182 acres of farmland adjacent to Scott Air Force Base, which the county is offering at no charge and which could include another 200 acres if the NGA wanted it.
Officials from St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state government have been issuing statements favoring the city site, even though the two St. Louis County sites have not been ruled out. They are at the former Chrysler plant in Fenton and at a Met Life office park in Mehlville. Meanwhile, Illinois officials have been speaking up for the St. Clair County location, and recently issued a bipartisan, joint letter spelling out its advantages.
Recent activity has included:
- Rep. Bost being joined by another southern Illinois Congressman, John Shimkus, both Republicans, in that meeting with Cardillo to support the Illinois cause. Said Bost: “Any objective observer would come to the conclusion that the St. Clair County site makes the most sense in terms of cost, infrastructure access, and national security... The site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base provides NGA with the best efficiencies, synergies and force protection capabilities available.”
- St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay asking the Missouri Senate to pass a resolution supporting the St. Louis site. Slay said, “We are certainly working hard to keep the 3,000 jobs there. I think the site works well for the organization.”
- The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board endorsing the St. Louis site, saying it’s better not just for the city, but for the NGA as well, and would be the best way to maintain employee morale and attract top prospects. The first editorial states: “The Illinois site cannot offer the synergies and recruitment possibilities of nearby universities and a high-tech innovation hub. It cannot offer this area’s mass transit and interstate highway options for busy commuters.” A second one last week implored the city site supporters to make a maximum effort.
- The chairmen of St. Clair and Madison counties, both Democrats, spelling out advantages of the Illinois site in an article. The chairmen, Mark Kern from St. Clair County and Alan Dunstan from Madison County, wrote: “Our site is shovel ready. Unlike the north St. Louis site with its multiple property owners, the Scott AFB site has only one owner: St. Clair County. It will present no environmental or infrastructure-related barriers to on- time and on-budget construction.”
- Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) taking an influential congressman from California, Adam Schiff, on a tour of the city location to show how the project could revive that part of the city. Clay also launched a drive to collect 100,000 signatures supporting the city’s bid, along with the St. Louis Clergy Coalition. Clay cited a presidential executive order saying federal facilities should be located to help distressed neighborhoods. “By enforcing the executive order and choosing north St. Louis, the project will create an unprecedented opportunity that will bring history full circle by replacing a great federal failure (Pruitt-Igoe) with a shining new symbol of hope, progress and prominence at the heart of keeping our nation safe,” he said.
- Illinois’ Congressional delegation and both Senators, in a bipartisan letter to Cardillo, notes that the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process called for moving the NGA to Scott Air Force Base. The letter states: “Military siting decisions must be based upon what is best for the command and its ability to carry out its mission. On that basis … we maintain that the BRAC recommendation is even more valid today.”
Meanwhile, union construction and trades workers are keeping an eye on the pot-stirring, knowing it could affect their future prospects. The Corps of Engineers’ last forecast was for 425 new construction jobs, 250 support jobs and 650 additional jobs, for a total of 1,345 “construction related jobs” on spending of an estimated $173.7 million.