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City would sell directly to federal government if national agency chooses to relocate on north side

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

The city of St. Louis expects to start making offers in early May on the properties within the proposed site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

That includes land owned by developer Paul McKee, who owns more than half of the parcels in the 100-acre area.

Until now, it had been unclear whether the city or McKee would sell the land to the federal government should the intelligence agency choose the north city site. McKee owns more than 350 parcels within the site just north of Pruitt-Igoe.

"Our current plan is to buy his property," said Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation. "We will then sell as a whole package, one owner of all the property, to the federal government."

The federal agency announced last year its plans to leave its south city campus as early as 2021. It is expected to choose from among four sites within the St. Louis region sometime next year.

TheSt. Louis Board of Aldermen has authorized the use of eminent domain to move more than 40 home owners and a handful of businesses from the area. Williams said the city will offer land owners an option to sell which means the owners would only be required to sell if the agency chooses the site.

"I think the mode we’re in at this point is going with options in 90 percent of the cases, but we may run across cases of people who are willing to sell irrespective of the move," Williams said.

The estimated cost of buying up the property and offering relocation benefits to residents and businesses has gone up since the aldermen approved the plan. Williams said the residential component has increased from the original $8-$10 million estimate to about $10-$12 million. Acquiring businesses could cost up to $25 million. As appraisals take place, Williams said, those figures could increase.

"I always hesitate to even say what the number is because, as we begin our appraisal process, that number evolves," Williams said.

Mayor Francis Slay has said it is critical to keep the federal agency and its 3,100 employees in the city. If the agency moves outside the urban core it would cost the city $2.4 million in earnings tax. If the geospatial intelligence agence does move to north city, half of the earnings taxes would be used to help repay the costs of infrastructure within the site.

Slay and Williams have said the cost of buying property and relocating residents and businesses would be well worth it, citing the promise of development.

"With that organization locating into that area there are so many things that can be developed in and around it that can further development on the north side," Williams said. "It’s in an area where we’ve been in need of that kind of energy, or catalyst or seed, if you will, to try and get things started there."

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

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