St. Louis has won the effort to get the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new $1.75 billion facility.
The final decision was not a surprise, even as Illinois officials continued to push this week for a location near Scott Air Force Base in the Metro East.
NGA director Robert Cardillo had said back in April that the agency’s preferred location was the 100-acre site on the city’s north side. He indicated the urban site’s proximity to cultural and academic institutions and innovation hubs would be a valuable recruiting tool. On Thursday afternoon he said the location would serve NGA's mission:
“Ultimately this location, near a quickly growing technological and professional environment, will allow for NGA to integrate capabilities and technologies in support of our mission to provide accurate and relevant geospatial intelligence to our customers.” Cardillo said in a statement. “I am very confident our new facility in north city will secure the future of this agency for generations to come.”
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was quick to praise the NGA’s choice, calling it a “victory for urban America” in a statement.
“I am certain that the construction of a state-of-the-art intelligence agency in north St. Louis will have an immense impact. The NGA has expressed its commitment to connecting with its new community, partnering with local schools, creating a campus seamlessly integrated with the neighborhood, and working with us on surrounding development.”
Meanwhile, Illinois officials criticized the move and questioned the process. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the choice of north St. Louis short-sighted.
“I am deeply concerned about the security of the St. Louis site and I do not believe we have received acceptable answers from Director Cardillo,” Durbin said in a statement.
Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois has already asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office for an investigation into the NGA’s decision.
"This isn't the first time NGA has deliberately used bad information to make a bad decision, which is why I have asked the top government watchdog to ensure this decision is best for the war fighter and taxpayer,” Kirk said.
Missouri officials had made it clear from the beginning that keeping the facility in St. Louis was a priority. The agency has been at the current campus on South 2nd Street for decades, and its 3,100 employees pay about $2 million annually in city earnings taxes.
In March, Slay announced the city would forgo $14 million and offer the federal government the location free of charge. That decision was made despite the $130 million estimated cost of buying out property owners in north St. Louis and clearing the land for construction.
In contrast, St. Clair County already owns its proposed 182-acre site. Officials there not only offered that land for free, but made another 200 acres available for future growth. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner further sweetened the deal by offering $115 million in infrastructure upgrades.
In the end, the NGA chose the urban location.
City officials have said most of the 200 residents in the area will move out this summer. Construction is expected to begin in 2018.