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State and city fight to keep federal agency in St. Louis

courtesy National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Efforts to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis are in full gear.

The Missouri Senate passed a measure on Thursday that would capture up to $12 million a year in withholdings taxes from NGA employees for up to 30 years. That money would go to the city for costs associated with luring the agency to a north St. Louis site.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard of Joplin sponsored the amendment that included the proposed financing agreement. The Republican said it’s important to keep the 3,000 NGA jobs in Missouri and would generate more business in north St. Louis.

"There really hasn’t been this size of a development in the city of St. Louis in 30, 40 years, so I am optimistic this will be the start of a regeneration of St. Louis' inner city," he said.

Keeping the NGA in Missouri

Richard’s amendment was attached to a larger bill (HB514) that also would authorize Super TIFs for all three of the proposed sites for the NGA in Missouri. The former Chrysler Plant in Fenton and the MetLife/SigmaAldrich campus in Mehlville are in the running, as well as land near Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

Richard said those TIFs would not go into play unless the NGA chose one of the sites. Missouri’s elected officials are trying to keep the intelligence agency from crossing the river. St. Clair County officials in Illinois have said they would offer the NGA land for free.

"I know the governor has been working on it really hard, along with Sen. (Claire) McCaskill and Sen. (Roy) Blunt and of all of our congressmen and women," Richard said. "We’ve got a frontal assault on this thing, and we’re going to give everything we’ve got to keep it in St. Louis."

Richard said the money from NGA employees' withholding taxes could help the city pay some of the upfront costs associated with buying property within the 100-acre site. The city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority has estimated it will spend more than $30 million to buy land and relocate residents and businesses.

Mayor Francis Slay’s chief of staff Mary Ellen Ponder said the city is getting more support because it’s the "incumbent." The Board of Aldermen already approved a special tax district using half of the earnings taxes of NGA employees, which is $2.4 million annually. Ponder said the proposed state legislation using those employees' withholdings taxes would be a big help.

"This does give us a little bit of an edge," she said.

The bill now must be reconciled with the version the House passed before going to the governor.

The center is currently located at 3200 South 2nd St. in St. Louis. 

McKee Lawsuit

Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed against Paul McKee and Northside Regeneration does not appear to jeopardize the effort to move the NGA into north city.

Titan Fish Two sued McKee in April claiming Northside Regeneration defaulted on four loans and owes more than $17 million. The company is asking the court to take over more than 400 parcels of McKee’s land, including 30 parcels within the NGA site.

But the Board of Aldermen’s approval of eminent domain to clear the site protects the project, according to attorney Bob Denlow. An expert in eminent domain, Denlow said the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority can still buy the land, even if it’s not clear who owns it.

"The fact that McKee and Titan have a difference in opinion as to who has what rights to the property or the proceeds won’t affect the condemnation," he said.

He said the court could appoint three commissioners to decide how much the LCRA should pay for the land. If any of the parties were unhappy with the amount, a full jury would decide. Then, he said, McKee and Titan could go to court to decide who should get the money.

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

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