The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced April 1 that the City of St. Louis has been selected as the preferred location for the agency’s new, $1.7 billion NextNGAWest complex.
However, Metro East political and business leaders note the location has not been finalized. They plan to continue lobbying for a site in St. Clair County adjacent to Scott Air Force Base.
The NGA will accept public comment on the site recommendation through late May.
NGA Director Robert Cardillo is expected to make a final decision on the location for the top-secret federal spy agency’s western headquarters by either late May or early June.
Cardillo informed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern of the agency’s staff recommendation on the location during separate telephone calls, March 31.
In an e-mail to agency staff, Cardillo said the St. Louis location, just north of downtown, is being recommended because an urban site would be more attractive to present and prospective employees.
“The future of our agency and our profession rests on our present talent and that of the next generations we can recruit to our team,” Cardillo wrote. “We face tough competition, and offering an environment that appeals to these future generations is critical to our success. Studies point to a desire by today’s millennials to be in urban environments, and this trend is expected to continue.”
However, Metro East leaders counter that the St. Clair County location would be more appropriate for the high-tech spy facility, allowing incorporation into Scott AFB’s military-grade security system, as well as ease of interaction with agency’s military clients on the base.
They also contend rapidly-developing Metro East would actually be more attractive to young professionals than St. Louis with its high crime rates, de-accredited school system, and continuing population loss.
St. Louis officials pitched their near north side location to the NGA in large part based on its status as a federally designed “Promise Zone,” which is to receive priority consideration under a program to revive blighted inner city areas. The North St. Louis tract includes the site of the infamous, failed Pruitt-Igoe high-rise public housing project.
However, Metro East spokespersons contend inadequate municipal services in St. Louis could compromise the safety and security of the critical intelligence-gathering agency. The city has been widely criticized for an understaffed police department, aging firefighting equipment, failure to consistently answer 911 calls and lack of basic street maintenance such as snow removal.
Privately, officials in Metro East suspect last week’s recommendation is more the product of political arm twisting than objective analysis of the agency’s requirements.
Loss of the NGA western headquarters, presently located in South St. Louis, would be “a severe blow” to the troubled municipality, Slay acknowledged during a press conference following Cardillo’s call.
St. Louis, some $2 billion in debt, relies on the NGA for $2.7 million in local income tax annually.
“We are disappointed that the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency has not decided to build its new facility here in Illinois,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D), Rep. Mike Brost (R-Murphysboro), and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), said in a joint statement.
“Scott Air Force Base remains one of our nation’s most important defense installations. We’re going to continue to work hard and see through this process of relocating the agency to the site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base.”
The NGA site recommendation can be accessed at http://nextngawest.com/site/index.php
— Metro East leaders vow to fight on for NextNGAWest —