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Once NGA decides, city says residents to move out this summer

Sarah Davis, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
Sarah Davis in the living room at her home on Warren Street. While she completely rehabbed her home, Davis has said from the beginning that she would be willing to move. Now she awaits word from the city.

If a federal spy agency chooses to relocate to north St. Louis as expected, residents in the way will have to move quickly.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency gave St. Louis the initial nod last week, but the spy agency’s final decision will come May 30. St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams said a month after that, the city expects some of the 200 residents living in the new site's footprint to begin moving out.

"Probably between June and August this year we will be executing our plan for relocation," Williams said. "In the meantime we will be communicating with all of the residents who remain in the area and those businesses that would need to be relocated."

That’s a fast timeline for Sarah Davis. The recent retiree has lived in her three-bedroom home on Warren Street for more than 30 years. What’s more, Davis isn’t sure how much she will be paid for her home.

"I don’t have anything in writing," Davis said. "My daughter counter-offered with the city and talked with someone, but we did not receive a letter, which is what we’re waiting for."

Sarah Davis, NGA
Credit (Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Sarah Davis' home on Warren Street. She plans to finish painting the home this spring, although it will likely be demolished within the year to make way for the NGA.

In an email, Williams said the city had a signed contract with Davis based on negotiations and considered it final. St. Louis Public Radio relayed that information to Davis, who said it was a relief. Still, she’s not sure how to look for a house without having money in hand.

"We’re in a limbo right now," Davis said, "because we can look now and find something, but you can’t do anything. It will be sold by the time you see some money."

For Adrienne Harris, finding a place equivalent to her current one on Benton Street is the worry. She runs an adult daycare out of the home that belonged to her mother. Now it’s uncertain whether she’ll be able to continue the business she started for her retirement.

"It’s just devastating. It changes my whole retirement plan," Harris said. "I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive trying to open up another daycare, because you have to find a location and then you have to get the city to come in and approve it. You have to get re-certified by the state, but they tell you it will be six months to a year."

Harris was listed in the city’s eminent domain suit but said she decided to settle on her attorney’s advice. She rejected the city’s initial offer of $21,000 because the home was appraised at $150,000 in 2008. In the end, Harris said she settled on a little more than $100,000. So far she hasn’t seen any suitable properties for that price.

Credit (Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Adrienne Harris runs an adult daycare out of the home on Benton Street. She said she's having a difficult time finding a comparable place for her business for the amount the city will pay her.

"I would be going into debt to find a building," she said. "Most buildings that cost $100,000 and something, they all need repairs. They’re all going to need to be brought up to code. They’re all going to need a fire system to be put in, which costs $10,000."

Harris, who is African-American like most of the residents in the 100-acre area, said she believes there is a racial component to the offers.

"For them to put $1 billion dollar facility here, I feel that just by us being black people, they just didn’t think much of us," Harris said.

The head of the city’s effort to lure the NGA to north city, Otis Williams said the goal has been to cause no harm to residents.

"We believe we’ve been very fair with all the residents and owners," he said. "We’ve provided them with funds enough to relocate without debt."

At a press conference last week officials including Mayor Francis Slay, Congressman William Lacy Clay and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon stressed how the new facility would be a catalyst for an area that hasn’t seen investment in decades.  Clay, as he’s done for months, pointed to the failed Pruitt-Igoe housing complex to the south of the neighborhood as a reason the federal government should choose the site.

"History has come full circle in north St. Louis," Clay said at the press conference.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

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