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St. Clair County offers more free land to attract federal agency

Wayne Pratt|St. Louis Public Radio
Map of proposed St. Clair County site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Updated 1:45 p.m., Nov. 16 with revised Illinois proposal - Metro East officials are sweetening their offer to attract a federal spy agency and its roughly 3,000 workers. St. Clair County officials said Monday that they are adding 200 acres to its proposal for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. That more than doubles the amount of land available at no charge to the NGA. Illinois officials also say the site near Scott Air Force Base could be ready much more quickly than a potential location in north St. Louis city, which would involve the complicated eminent domain process.

Our original story:

Nearly 300 people showed up at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s open house-style hearing on Thursday evening in north St. Louis.

The agency is considering four possible locations for a new facility, including a 100-acre acre site in north city, two locations in St. Louis County and one near Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. (Read a recent U.S. Army Corps report on all four sites here.)

While a move to north city would displace about 200 residents, only a small percentage at the hearing came from the affected area.

"I don’t know any of these people," said John Gillian with a laugh.

A resident of the proposed site, Gillian said he rents a house from his cousin, along with five other men who he calls his Christian brothers. He attended the hearing to see if he could learn something about where to move.

"The only houses we’ve found are slum houses up in certain neighborhoods," he said. "We just want to get something nice where we can continue our walk with Christ and be together as a group."

St. Louis officials have signed options with more than 60 landowners to buy their land if the federal agency chooses the site. The Board of Aldermen recently approved a resolution allowing the city to take 37 other property owners to court in eminent domain proceedings.

Credit (Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Nearly 300 people attended the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency public hearing at the Gateway Classic Sports Foundation on the city's north side.

Many who showed up at Thursday’s hearing are connected with local government. A press conference held prior to the hearing included U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

While two of the possible locations are in St. Louis County, Stengerhas given the city his support.  

"It’s the best site," he said. "As a general proposition the county doesn’t view its neighbors as competitors. We view them as neighbors."

Clay said earlier this week the entire Missouri delegation is behind the St. Louis site. The Democrat said it’s important to show a united front in order to win the competition. As for residents who have lived most of their lives in the proposed area, Clay said he’s talked with them, too.

"I’ve asked them to consider if they really love their city, if they really love their community, to consider what the NGA located in this site would mean to the community," he said.

Credit (Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Governor Jay Nixon, Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, Congressman William Lacy Clay, and Alderwomen Tamika Hubbard gathered before the public hearing.

Indeed, some residents from surrounding neighborhoods said they think getting the federal agency would be a boost for north city. Deborah Robinson said she is just a few blocks from the site.

"I’ve been down here quite a few years, and I haven’t seen much change," she said. "It’s time for a change."

The $1.6 billion construction project is expected to create more than 400 jobs. Northside resident Brittany Leeks is hoping that could include her. She has a pink card for her demo company, Brittany’s Inc., with the slogan "the best man 4 the job is a woman" listed below.

"I think it would be good for our neighborhood," she said. "Something positive."

Also in attendance was developer Paul McKee. With about 40 acres, he's the biggest land owner within the site’s footprint. McKee and his company Northside Regeneration answered the NGA’s initial call for sites, and submitted the north city area.

But he is among the 37 land owners who could end up in court forced to sell their land through eminent domain. McKee said the negotiations with the city continue and they’re nearing agreement.

"We brought the NGA to the north side, so to think they’d have to take us with eminent domain is ridiculous," he said.

The developer said his company has agreed to forego $40 million in tax increment financing that initially was part of his bid. He said it’s important that the money is spent to support the NGA and Northside Regeneration. As for the NGA, he said getting the new facility in north St. Louis would be huge for the area.

The public comment period on all four sites continues until Nov. 23 at nextngawest@usace.army.mil or send a comment by mail: Next NGA West, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers KA ansas City District, Room 529, 601 E. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO.

The federal agency will make its decision in April.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.
Wayne Pratt is the Broadcast Operations Manager and former morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.