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Map of future NGA Site in north St. Louis

A map showing the boundaries of Paul McKee's Northside Regeneration development area with the future western headquarters of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency in the center. Surrounding the NGA site are proposed projects, including a housing development led by Telesis Corporation and McKee-led plans for a medical campus on the former Pruitt-Igoe site and a grocery store and convenience store at Tucker and Cass Avenues. 

ST. LOUIS • With the nearly $2 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency project on its way, developer Paul McKee is preparing to achieve his dream.

On Tuesday, McKee, who has spent more than a decade compiling large swaths of land in north St. Louis, said he is moving forward with a 500-unit residential housing plan.

The development will include market-rate rental apartments, houses and some lofts. It is focused on a 50-block area surrounding the northern and eastern edge of NGA’s planned $1.75 billion campus.

McKee has partnered with CRG Real Estate Solutions and Telesis Corp. of Washington. For financing, the group has gotten a letter of intent from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, which has invested over $500 million in St. Louis area residential developments.

NorthSide Regeneration, McKee’s expansive development plan with more than 1,500 acres, hopes to partner with all three entities on future projects.

Steve Coyle, president of the housing investment trust, said in a statement that the trust looks to be a “long-term investor in the NorthSide Regeneration District.”

McKee has struggled over the years with financing and creditors.

In 2009, he announced NorthSide as a multibillion-dollar redevelopment and netted more than $40 million in state tax credits to help him buy land. St. Louis later agreed to provide up to $390 million in tax-increment financing aid.

But as the years went by, lawsuits and creditors piled up. All of that has changed with the NGA announcement that became official last week, McKee says.

The agency plans to move more than 3,100 jobs to the area by 2022 or 2023, setting forth a massive construction project that north St. Louis hasn’t seen in generations. McKee has long looked for an anchor such as the NGA. He hopes to use the project as a catalyst to drive future growth and reshape the area just north of downtown St. Louis.

“Getting NGA was startling, for all of the reasons the opponents are saying,” said Marilyn Melkonian, president of Telesis, noting Illinois leaders’ complaints that Scott Air Force should have gotten the project because the St. Louis site was too complicated and dangerous. “If you look at the history, the last 70 years have destroyed” the area, she said.

The area, known as St. Louis Place, has been decimated by poverty and urban decay. While the neighborhood has slowly disappeared, many stately brick homes remain and are eligible for rehab. Today, imposing mansions still line St. Louis Avenue.

Despite the decades of decline in the area, Melkonian said, “I think there’s wonderful historic housing in St. Louis.”

The developers will attempt to fill in vacant lots as well as rehab historic houses in the zone.

McKee hopes the new housing units can be marketed to new residents and also serve the people being relocated from homes within the 99-acre NGA construction site. Design concepts haven’t been finished, but the group is focused on an urban, walkable plan — something that has proven attractive to younger tenants.

“Millennials are coming back to the city,” McKee said.

“Once the NGA HQ is completed, the thousands of NGA employees, as well as employees in downtown, Grand Center and at Cortex will have the option to walk or bike to work from their homes at NorthSide.”

Initial construction will begin in 2017 and be completed in 2018. That time frame is not soon enough for the 200 residents being displaced by NGA, but McKee said he hopes some will consider temporary housing and work with the city to stay near their old neighborhood.

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Nicholas J.C. Pistor is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.