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Mixture of grief and anger expressed by residents at NGA meeting

Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
About 200 people attended a meeting Monday night held by the city to talk about way the new NGA facility will connect with the neighborhood.

St. Louis city officials told about 200 community members that they wanted to hear ideas and concerns about the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new facility that received the official green light just last week.

They got an earful.

The meeting Monday night, dubbed “Project Connect,” attracted residents who will have to make way for the new facility; people who grew up in the neighborhood; and those who live in surrounding areas.

"This is the largest development the city of St. Louis has seen, as long as I can remember,” Mayor Francis Slay told the crowd.

The mayor and others officials say the $1.7 billion project will spur private development around the site and transform the neighborhood.

Lisa Lagrone said that promise is too little, too late.

Her mother, Martha Lagrone, lived in the 2200 block of Benton Street within the NGA’s footprint until she died last month. Her daughter said the 71-year-old was stressed by the situation and didn’t want to move from the home she lived in for nearly five decades.

“I’m real mad about this, because you just don’t come and take people out, and everybody thinking this is the best thing in the world,” she said.

Others who live outside the footprint asked what the facility would do to their property values or whether they should expect to be moved in the future. Rose Green lives on St. Louis Avenue and said the NGA is coming up to her back gate.

“I’m kind of worried. If you’re taking the others, you’re coming for me next. I’ve been in this neighborhood since I was a little bitty girl, and it’s scary,” she said.

Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation, promised Green her home and others outside the NGA facility would not be affected. Williams has led the city’s effort to persuade the NGA to build a new facility at the corner of Cass and Jefferson Avenues, keeping 3,100 jobs in St. Louis. Throughout the meeting, he attempted to assuage people’s fears.

That included accusations that the city is trying to push residents out of the city altogether.

Joyce Miller said her mother has lived on 2300 block of Mullanphy Street since 1957.

“My mom is 80 years old. She’s not familiar with the county. She still gets around, but she wouldn’t know where she’s going, and I think you should have looked at that,” Miller said.

Williams said they’re trying place residents into homes in the city, close to the neighborhood, if they can.

“We’re willing to work with all of you to find a place that you’re happy with,” he said.

That work will have to take place quickly.

The city expects residents to move out by the end of September. Demolition is expected to begin in October.

The NGA will take control of the land in September 2017 and the new facility is slated to open in 2021.

Follow Maria Altman on Twitter: @radioaltman

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