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Residents can stay if NGA doesn’t choose north St. Louis for relocation

The proposed site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in north St. Louis.
National Geospatial Intelligence Agency | provided

St. Louis officials are providing clarification of how the city would implement eminent domain to clear a swath of land on the north side of St. Louis.

Last week, the Board of Aldermanapproved the use of eminent domain to move people out of a 100-acre site that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is considering for relocation. Now, officials are saying that property owners will have an option to stay in their homes and businesses if the NGA chooses another location.

The area, just north of the former Pruitt-Igoe site, is one of four under consideration in the region by the federal agency, which is now located south of downtown. The city is eager to keep the NGA, along with its 3,100 employees and $2.4 million in earnings taxes each year.

Some criticized the Board of Alderman's approval of eminent domain as a gamble because the NGA will not choose a site until next year. However, this week St. Louis Development Corporation’s executive director Otis Williams told St. Louis Public Radio the city will offer an option to landowners who want to stay if the project doesn’t move forward.

"We have permission from the federal government to basically use the ability to offer options for purchase," Williams said. "There may be those in the project area who will desire to sell, so we will be buying as well as offering options to purchase pending the decision by the NGA."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an environmental impact study on all four sites for the NGA. Project manager Bryan Smith said the St. Louis Land Clearance and Redevelopment Authority got in touch with the Corps last week to ask whether they could offer landowners an option contract.

"From our position, our standpoint, it makes no difference if the LCRA enters into options for particular landowners in that area," he said.

Alderman Antonio French, of the 21st Ward, has been critical of the plan and voted against the ordinance authorizing eminent domain. He said Williams should have alerted aldermen last week that an options contract would be offered to residents.

"That is something I specifically asked for in the hearing [of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee] and was told repeatedly by Mr. Williams it could not be done," French said in an email. "Several of us on the committee were doubtful that an option contract would not be sufficient since it is something that is regularly used to gain site control."

The city will begin sending out letters of notice to landowners within the week, according to Williams. He said the city will pay residents for their homes, as well as a relocation fee. Williams said the city also is willing to move homes that are in good condition to another location.

The LCRA estimates the cost of purchasing the land will be about $8 million. Williams said they don’t yet know what infrastructure improvements will be needed. Should the NGA choose the site, about half of the earnings taxes the agency’s employees pay will go toward a special allocation fund to repay the city for those costs.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.