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Minority firm gets demo contract on NGA site; other inclusion commitments still unknown

The former Buster Brown Blue Ribbon building is slated for demolition as part of the development project for the NGA. It sits just north of Cass and Jefferson avenues
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
The former Buster Brown Blue Ribbon building is slated for demolition as part of the development project for the NGA. It sits just north of Cass and Jefferson avenues

Premier Demolition, a local minority union contractor, has been awarded a $311,000 demolition contract to help pave the way for construction of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency West campus on the near north side of St. Louis, the mayor’s office stated on Friday.

Premier will demolish the Buster Brown Blue Ribbon Shoe Factory, a building constructed around 1900 when St. Louis was one of the nation’s largest shoe manufacturing cities. Pre-demolition began this week.

A dozen pallets of the salvaged brick (about 560 bricks per pallet) will be used as part of the construction of the NGA West, according to the city’s news release. Other salvageable bricks will be hauled to a nearby recycling facility chosen by the contractor.

Because of the size of the factory, LCRA Holdings, which is managing the site preparation, has allotted nearly 75 days for the full demolition and site clearance. LCRA is the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, a five-member board and support staff that oversees many aspects of public and private real estate development in the city of St. Louis.

During the demolition, short-term lane closures may be necessary to ensure a safe perimeter. Signs will be posted to alert drivers.

Of the 137 structures that stood within the 97-acre site for NGA West, 132 have been demolished. Another was physically relocated just outside of the NGA’s site boundary.

The $1.75 billion NGA West will be built within both a Promise Zone – a high-poverty community where the federal government partners with local leaders to increase job creation and economic investment — and a HUB Zone, an area where historically underutilized businesses get a preference with obtaining government contracts.

A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers previously told The American that a “project contracting officer” would decide the minority participation goals for the entire project. The contracting officer will set inclusion goals at the federal minimum – 14.7 percent minority and 6.9 percent women workers, goals that do not reflect city’s minority population or ensure that local workers get a piece of the pie.

The St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council proposed to the NGA that at least 37.81 percent of all labor hours on the facility go to minorities, which more than doubles the inclusion goals set forth in federal guidelines. The St. Louis union council also proposed that at least 23.28 percent of all labor hours would go to St. Louis residents, and 6.9 percent of all labor hours would go to women.

These goals are based on an extensive disparity study, which found that St. Louis has the capacity to employ this number of minorities. The NGA project will likely create 425 construction jobs and 250 “immediate indirect jobs” connected to the construction.

Employment opportunities for minorities have been a center of discussion since the Ferguson unrest. The American previously asked the Army Corps if the region’s attention on this matter would encourage the Army to consider higher minority workforce goals. The Army responded, “We are still conducting research on project labor agreements and are open to discussion.”

NGA aims to award 5 percent of its contract dollars nationally to disadvantaged businesses. In fiscal year 2014, it achieved 0.87 percent. The agency’s goals for HUB Zone business contracts was 3 percent, and in FY 2014 the agency awarded zero dollars to these businesses. The agency awarded 12.42 percent to small businesses in the same year, meeting less than half of the agency’s 28 percent goal.

The American asked the agency’s Office of Small Business why they struggled to award contracts to HUB Zone and disadvantaged businesses.

In an email, an NGA spokesman wrote that the challenges in meeting these goals include “the size of the requirement and the lack of capability” and that the agency continues to “work on innovative approaches to provide more opportunities for small business to be the prime contractor.”

U.S. Rep. William. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, who represents the north St. Louis area where NGA West will be built, has repeatedly said the federal government owes the area its reinvestment after its disastrous Pruitt-Igoe housing project and the devastation it left behind. Clay said that NGA and the Army Corps both have a responsibility to ensure that local and minority residents have employment opportunities on the project.

“That would have to be an understanding between the owner (NGA) and the Army Corps,” Clay said. “They have to set those goals. I intend to advocate for those goals.”

Chris King is editorial director of The St. Louis American, where this article was originally published.