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North St. Louis

Proposed St. Louis site for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

ST. LOUIS • Aldermen advanced on Friday a bill that would give St. Louis eminent domain authority to move out homeowners as part of a sprawling effort to keep the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency within the city’s borders.

The agency is planning to move from its location south of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and is choosing between four potential sites: Fenton, Mehlville, St. Clair County and north St. Louis.

The more than 100-acre site in north St. Louis, which includes the demolished Pruitt Igoe housing complex and a swath of land north of it, is filled with challenges. The city is seeking to redevelop the land around the site, buy property and force a number of land owners there to move.

Under a proposed bill, the city could use eminent domain to buy up any property north of Cass Avenue in the redevelopment area to Montgomery Street. The site is bordered east and west by North Jefferson Avenue and North 22nd Street. Much of the land is vacant, but it does include houses of some longtime city residents.

A good portion of the site is owned by developer Paul McKee, who had pledged he wouldn’t use eminent domain on homeowners for his massive NorthSide Regeneration Project.

Now, if approved, the city would use eminent domain on homeowners and McKee requiring them to sell land in the redevelopment zone to the city at market rate.

The immediate area around Pruitt Igoe is what drew McKee to propose his NorthSide project. McKee has said his dream was to stitch together enough properties to lure a corporate campus.

Earlier this week, McKee sought to relocate his proposed urgent care facility, which was originally situated within the proposed geospatial area, a half mile south.

“The concern comes that it is not a guarantee that we are going to get this project,” Alderman Antonio French said. “We are talking about people’s homes.”

One of those homeowners is Joyce Cooks, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years.

“They are going to have to beat me down to take it,” Cooks said in an interview. “I’m not going to sell my property to Paul McKee or to the government.”

But keeping the spy agency, which provides mapping and satellite support for the U.S. military, is a priority for many St. Louis officials. The agency employs 3,000 people, brings in estimated $2.4 million in annual earnings tax, and has an average salary of $75,000. (The facility, because it is operated by the federal government, is exempt from paying property taxes.)

“We do have to care about jobs, and we have to care about earnings tax, and we have to care about developing north St. Louis,” Alderman Lyda Krewson said. “We don’t get the choice of what is fair here. We don’t have the luxury of saying I don’t like the choice that is before us.”

Aldermen debated the bill for several hours on Friday. They could grant final approval next week.

Officials had to expand the north St. Louis location because the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is requiring a larger footprint for its brand new facility. The new structure would be built just north of the Pruitt Igoe ground.

It’s still unclear how the city will fund various other infrastructure improvements around the site. A proposed $200 million bond issue that would pay for it hasn’t been placed on a ballot or approved by voters.

Illinois leaders have put on a strong push to lure the facility to land near Scott Air Force Base, something they believe would prevent the base from ever having to close. They have increasingly pointed out the challenges of the St. Louis site.

Some St. Louis aldermen expressed concern that Illinois will get the location. A decision is expected sometime next year after the Army Corp of Engineers concludes an environmental study.

“The world has changed and we don’t have the congressional clout that we used to,” said Alderman Tom Villa.

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