Updated at 5 p.m. with comments from St. Louis Development Corporation Executive Director Otis Williams.
The city of St. Louis is working to show it controls the 97 acres slated for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s new headquarters — a $1.75 billion development project.
Alderman Brandon Bosley is sponsoring a bill that would allow the city to use eminent domain on land it already owns. Bosley’s 3rd ward comprises just under half of the NGA project footprint, as well as some of its surrounding neighborhoods in north St. Louis.
The unusual move comes after the city declared Northside Regeneration developer Paul McKee in default of his redevelopment agreement in June. McKee’s lender, the Bank of Washington, then filed a lawsuit against several city economic development agencies, accusing them of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment and threatening to take back land within the NGA site.
(Read more about that lawsuit here.)
Bosley said that the move, first reported by NextSTL, should just prove that the city truly can transfer the land to the federal government.
“It’s just reassurance to the federal government that, ‘Hey, we have the authority to give you this land; there won’t be any problems further down the line with any developers,’” Bosley told St. Louis Public Radio.
This would be the second time that the city would apply eminent domain to the properties within the 97-acre site at Jefferson and Cass avenues, which is currently owned by the city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority Holding Corporation.
The city was expected to hand over the land to the NGA by 2019. Bosley said that he introduced the bill quickly because of the government’s timeline.
Executive director for St. Louis Development Corporation Otis Williams, who has headed up the city’s efforts to attract the NGA, said that this process just adds additional protection to the land.
“We have clear titles, we are the owners of this property, and the legislation that is being imposed is really to be sure that there’s not a possibility that any liens could be imposed on the property and that we maintain our schedule for transfer,” Williams said.
Williams said that the NGA deal is still on track.
“We’re on course. This does not in any way jeopardize our process moving forward," he said.
Bosley said it's important to keep the NGA, especially because the city doesn't want to signal that it can't deliver. But if the federal facility backs out of the deal, Bosley said the city government could get another big development.
“Then we just have a good opportunity to rebuild in a part of town that hasn’t had any development for awhile, and we actually have the land to do so,” he said. “It could open up other opportunities.”
Bosley also stressed that the bill wouldn’t use eminent domain to take land from residents: It just shifts the properties between city entities.
“Our loyalty has to be somewhere, and it has to be with the residents.”
The Bank of Washington did not immediately return a call for comment.
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