St. Louis site may have more potential benefits
By CARL GREEN
Belleville, IL – Illinois officials stepped up their bid to be awarded the site of the vast new National Geospatial-Intelligence Administration western states headquarters last week by doubling the amount of free land they are offering the satellite spymasters.
St. Clair County owns all of the land being offered around Scott Air Force Base, and its board chairman, Mark Kern, brought powerful U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the assistant minority leader, and Madison County Board Chairman Alan J. Dunstan to join him in adding a 200-acre addition to its original 182-acre proposal.
St. Clair County is considered one of the leading contenders, along with the City of St. Louis, for the new NGA location, to replace a large but aging facility at the former St. Louis Arsenal south of downtown.
See previous coverage:
- 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?
An estimated 3,100 well-paid employers would be affected, and the project, estimated at well over $1 billion, would create hundreds of construction jobs as well, before its scheduled completion in 2021.
The Army Corps of Engineers is now evaluating the four sites under consideration and is scheduled to recommend one of them in March. The NGA is to make its decision in April.
The Illinois site is agricultural land adjacent to Scott Air Force Base. The St. Louis site is 100 acres north and east of the Cass Avenue and Jefferson Street intersection, an area that is mostly vacant but would require buyouts. The other two sites are in St. Louis County – the former Chrysler plant in Fenton and the current Met Life office park in Mehlville.
All four have been under evaluation by the Corps of Engineers, although most Missouri officials have united to support the city location as Illinois officials are backing St. Clair County.
LOOKING 99 YEARS OUT
Announcing the improvement to the county’s offer, Kern said it is intended to meet one of NGA’s stated goals – to be able to react or expand as needs change in the future.
“When we heard the Corp of Engineers give their presentation, they talked about the fact that this is a 99-year decision they are making. They’re going to be locating here for generations,” Kern said.
“Every news cycle, practically, we see changes not only in cyber-security but in physical security in this country,” he added. “This would double the site and would enable NGA to build – for generations.”
He pointed on a map to agricultural land that could be selected, either north or west of the original site, all still adjacent to Scott Air Force Base.
“They would not only have an additional buffer zone, but it would provide opportunities for NGA to do whatever they wanted on their site,” he said.
Durbin reiterated the advantages claimed for the Illinois site and said the Illinois congressional delegation, including his counterpart Sen. Mark Kirk, is supporting the effort.
“St. Clair County has enhanced an already strong proposal with the additional land,” Durbin said. “Scott Air Force Base provides several advantages for the NGA and is a natural fit.”
BIGGER IMPACT FROM ST. LOUIS SITE
That may be, but Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council said the St. Louis has more to offer in terms of opportunity for economic redevelopment and job creation.
“I think the relocation to an urban distressed area makes more sense to the neighborhoods than any of the sites in our region,” Aboussie said. “We think the best side would be in the northside site in St. Louis. It would be better for St. Louis City residents not only to be involved in the construction of the site but in permanent jobs for our region. Those jobs average about $75,000 annually. I think it would be good for the city but also for the income growth of the region as well.”
MORE LAND NOT NEEDED?
St. Louis officials also note that the NGA has been clear about needing 100 acres – not double that amount.
Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, called Kern’s announcement a publicity stunt in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
He noted that the city had offered another 35 acres south of Cass on the former Pruitt-Igoe housing site but was told it wasn’t needed. “More land is not what they need,” he said.
St. Clair County’s argument includes that it is available immediately without requiring demolition or decontamination and is convenient to Interstate 64. Two clients of the NGA are located at Scott, the Defense Information System Agency and the U.S. Transportation Command, providing close and secure communications links.
The city counters that its location is convenient to several interstate highways downtown and closer for a majority of employees, with about 70 percent now living in Missouri. The Corps has reported that removing the employees from the city would blow a $2.9 million hole in the city budget each year from lost local income taxes.
Anyone who has been waiting to add a comment to the public record about the decision has probably waited too long. The Corps’ public comment period ended Nov. 23.