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Eminent domain for city’s NGA site could include McKee

The city of St. Louis may use its power of eminent domain against developer Paul McKee and 18 other land owners in its bid to retain the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

A resolution will be introduced to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday to allow the legal process to begin.

The city is working to get options on the 99-acre site just north of the former Pruitt-Igoe housing development. It’s one of four possible locations the NGA will choose to relocate to from its aging facility south of downtown St. Louis. The other three sites include land near Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Illinois and two locations in St. Louis County.

St. Louis has a handicap as the only site that must buy land from multiple owners and could potentially have to force sales through eminent domain.

Paul McKee, Jr. of McEagle Properties, LLC. McKee released an open letter today to the people of St. Louis about his NorthSide development project. (St. Louis Public Radio)
Credit (St. Louis Public Radio)
Developer Paul McKee owns 349 parcels within the proposed NGA site.

With roughly 40 acres, Paul McKee has far more of the north city site than any other land owner. St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams said talks with the developer continue.

"We’re still negotiating with Mr. McKee and his team and those are not, quote, adversarial," Williams said. "We just have not come to a deal."

Williams said the city will continue to negotiate, even as it moves to begin the eminent domain process. The board will likely move the resolution through in October, and the city could file an eminent domain suit in court by early next year.

Including McKee’s properties on the eminent domain list was done "out of an abundance of caution," according to the developer’s spokesman Jim Gradl.

"Northside Regeneration is very close to finalizing an agreement with the city of St. Louis, which will give the city control over the parcels owned by Northside Regeneration within the proposed footprint for relocation of the National Geospatial Agency to North St. Louis City," Gradl said in an emailed statement. 

City officials say they’re confident they can get the land in hand by next April when the NGA is expected to make its final choice. Williams said of 110 land owners, his office has agreements or is nearing signed contracts with 76. He said negotiations continue with another 15 owners.

That includes Charlesetta Taylor, a long-time resident within the area. The 81-year-old first moved into her home on N. Market in 1945. City officials have offered to pick up her three-story home and move it.

"I have given my attorney permission to negotiate, and we’ve not reached a firm agreement," Taylor said when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Mayor Francis Slay is adamant that the NGA should stay in St. Louis. The facility’s 3,100 employees pay about $2.4 million in earnings taxes to the city each year. The Slay administration says the facility would provide a boon for the north site.

"This is for the neighbors. This is for the neighborhood. We’ve seen decades of private disinvestment in north St. Louis," said Maggie Crane, the mayor’s spokeswoman. "This is a massive investment, $1.6 billion keeping 3,100 well-paying jobs in St. Louis."

The competition is largely between the city and the Illinois site, especially after St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger threw his support to the city in a recent letter to the NGA. St. Clair County officials have offered to give the NGA a 193-acre parcel of county land.

Credit (Brent Jones, St. Louis Public Radio)
The NGA is currently located south of downtown St. Louis.

In St. Louis it’s expected the city would have to spend about $130 million to buy and prepare the land for the NGA. The Board of Aldermen approved a $20 million loan earlier this year, $13 million of which could be used for the project. State legislators also approved sending up to $12 million in NGA employees’ withholding taxes back to the city each year if the federal agency chooses the St. Louis site.

So what happens if the NGA passes over St. Louis?

"These are options, so if we don’t get the NGA, we won’t move ahead." Williams said.

But, he said, if an owner wants to sell regardless of the NGA’s plans, the city will likely buy some of the land in anticipation of a future project.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

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