U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, took a House colleague and local media members for a bus tour of St. Louis’ proposed site for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
Just a few hours before, the city moved a sign protesting the NGA and police arrested two protesters.
"It’s not a coincidence," said Sheila Rendon.
She and her husband, Gustavo Rendon, live within the proposed NGA footprint and are fighting the city’s use of eminent domain to force them to sell their home.
The sign, which quotes scripture in opposition to war, ended with the phrase "no eminent domain, no NGA." It had been placed on land that once belonged to the Catholic Church but is now owned by developer Paul McKee.
Rendon said it had been on the property since December, but city employees showed up to move it onto the sidewalk Monday. Rendon’s husband and north city resident Larry Chapman were later arrested for trespassing.
"A group of neighbors came out and asked 'what right does the city have to take away a sign that doesn’t belong to the city?'" said Gustavo Rendon. "So they allowed us to take it back. Then later on someone who represented Paul McKee came and said they would take it out."
McKee was on the bus tour with the two members of Congress. When asked by St. Louis Public Radio about the arrests, he said it was up to the city. He said he showed up to talk with protesters because police called him.
"That’s entirely the city’s issue. My land is under contract with the city," McKee said. "The city asked that the sign be removed."
In the end, the bus did not drive by the sign at 23rd and Mullanphy streets.
Instead, Clay and McKee highlighted other areas of the 100-acre site for U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a ranking member of the House select intelligence committee.
Schiff said while all four possible sites fit the NGA’s criteria, the federal government has to be mindful of community impact.
"The chance to revitalize a portion of a city that has been in decline, to bring jobs to an area, to help that area prosper again is enormously attractive," Schiff said.
The north city site is competing with St. Clair County, which is offering the NGA nearly 400 acres at no cost. The city site is within a federal Promise Zone.
"We have a Promise Zone in my district, and if that initiative is going to mean something it has to mean that if there’s a tie, it has to go to the area that would most economically benefit," Schiff said.
When asked how much influence Congress will have over the NGA’s decision, Schiff said he expects the NGA director Robert Cardillo to consult with members. Ultimately, though, Schiff said it will be up to Cardillo.
"I think he’ll evaluate all the criteria and make a sound decision," he said.
Clay pointed to the former Pruitt-Igoe housing project as one reason for the NGA to relocate to north city. The 33 high-rise buildings were demolished in the early 1970s, less than 20 years after going up.
"It was a federal disaster, and we think bringing NGA will help right that wrong," he said.
Clay said 50 years ago when he spent time with relatives, the area was filled with homes and businesses. Now about 200 people live in homes that dot mostly vacant land. Yet a few, including the Rendons, say they still want to stay.
At the end of the tour the bus was met by a small group of protesters who asked to speak with both congressmen.
"Can you talk to the people?" shouted Derek Lainey with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.
They were told the congressmen had to get to the airport.
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