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Board approves bill for $20 million loan for NGA site

courtesy National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Buy it and they will come.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved a measure Friday to take a $20 million loan in order to buy land within the proposed site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The loan will use one--- possibly two---city buildings as collateral. The measure passed with a vote of 18-9 with one abstention.

The NGA, however, will not choose among four possible locations in the St. Louis region until next year.

The prospect of losing 3,100 NGA employees, now housed at a facility in south of downtown, put pressure on board members. Those employees pay about $2.4 million in earnings taxes to the city each year. Aldermen Stephen Conway, from the 8th Ward, boiled it down this way:

"You’re either for St. Louis or you run for mayor of O’Fallon, Illinois. That’s the choice you have today," he told the chamber.

St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams has said the city must get options on all the land ahead of the NGA’s decision next year. The federal agency expects to buy a single piece of land from one owner.

The 100 acres just north of Cass Avenue and the former Pruitt-Igoe housing development is home to about 200 residents. Several aldermen objected to taking a loan to buy land from the area’s biggest land owner, developer Paul McKee.

Twenty-first Ward Alderman Antonio French said McKee is reportedly seeking $17 million from the city for the 342 parcels he owns, many of which he bought directly from the city just three years ago. French said the developer appears to be looking for a windfall.

"At some point every alderman has to ask themselves one question ‘is there anything that Paul McKee can ask for that you won’t give him?'" French asked.

St. Louis Public Radio has reported in the past on how much McKee spent for the land. He paid the city about $600,000 for more than 260 parcels. The developer paid around $7 million for land from private land owners in the area. But he also was reimbursed for those acquisitions with $3.5 million in Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credits from the state.

The city also approved $390 million in Tax Increment Financing for McKee's Northside project in 2009 and re-authorized the TIF in 2013. So for the project has received no funding from the city as no development has occurred.

Several aldermen said feelings about the developer had to be put aside in the interest of keeping jobs. Jeffrey Boyd, the alderman for the 22nd Ward, encouraged members to vote on the bill as a policy issue.

"This bill is not about Paul McKee from my understanding," Boyd said. "This bill is about the city of St. Louis and the greater good."

Boyd went on to say McKee could ask the city for all he wanted, but it wouldn’t mean the city will pay it. The board also approved the use of eminent domain for the project earlier this year.

After the vote Mayor Francis Slay praised the board for approving the bill.

"We are dedicated to retaining the NGA's 3,100 well-paying jobs," Slay said in a statement.  "If we are successful, it also means adding a $1.6 billion project and hundreds of construction jobs in the City while also keeping millions of tax dollars in state and local economies.  Today an overwhelming majority of aldermen voted to empower the City to make that happen."

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

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