St. Louis has transferred 97 acres of land to the federal government to build a $1.75- billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus. The transfer to the U.S. Air Force is part of St. Louis’ deal with the agency, which will establish a new headquarters for the agency in the St. Louis Place neighborhoodin north St. Louis.
Officials who spoke at the transfer ceremony heralded the project as the largest investment ever made in St. Louis. The campus will have 3,100 permanent employees and construction will create 1,500 additional jobs, according to city representatives.
St. Louis Development Corporation executive director Otis Williams, who helped coordinate much of the deal, said the “transformative project” will establish St. Louis as “a hub of geospatial excellence.”
The federal government in 2016 announced its decision to move the current headquarters from south St. Louis to north St. Louis, after considering multiple locations around the region.
NGA director Robert Cardillo told attendees at Thursday’s ceremony that he thinks the new campus will ensure the NGA’s future success.
“The nation made a bet on this city and this region. We’re making the next installment on that. You’ve already returned on that investment through the talented employees, teammates, that we have today,” he said. “We couldn’t be prouder that we’re going to reinvest now in the community.”
Investment in ‘long-neglected’ north side
Now that the U.S. Air Force owns the land, officials will select a construction firm from among three finalists. The City of St. Louis already demolished buildings on the land and prepared the site for construction. Cardillo said he hopes the project will break ground in about 10 months.
U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, said that the project presents a great opportunity for north St. Louis and its historically black neighborhoods.
“We hope that this will help a long-neglected sector of the city, the area north of Delmar, to be rejuvenated, to be infused with economic activity,” he said.
The neighborhoods surrounding the Next NGA West campus have federal status as a Promise Zone, which puts them first in line to receive federal assistance to decrease poverty and rebuild communities. Critics of the project have said the use of eminent domain to buy up land for the NGA campus shows a disregard for the surrounding community.
Charlesetta Taylor lived in the project footprint in St. Louis Place for about 70 years. Taylor opposed the NGA project when it was initially announced and helped organize a petition drive against it. The city moved her 3,000-square-foot home to a corner on St. Louis Avenue, just off of the NGA project’s northeastern boundary — instead of demolishing it to make way for the campus, like it did most other homes.
Thursday, she attended the transfer ceremony to show her support for the project. She said she’s excited to see how the area changes.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the building begin,” she said. “I can see the area where [my house] came from, and I look forward to something fantastic going on in that spot.”
Taylor said she hopes that the project will produce affordable housing that will let longtime residents of her community to continue to live near the campus after the project’s conclusion.
Taylor wasn’t the only one with that concern.
“I want them to think about the people who are still there. That we don’t get displaced again,” said Rose Green, another St. Louis Place resident.
She said she’s acted as a community liaison for the project. As construction proceeds, she said she hopes the federal government will communicate with nearby residents and consider their needs.
City officials estimate that the new facilitys will open between 2024 and 2025.
Chad Davis contributed reporting for this story.
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