NGA Decision Comes Down to Air Base vs. Urban Renewal

By Pistor, Nicholas Jc | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 27, 2016 | Go to article overview

NGA Decision Comes Down to Air Base vs. Urban Renewal


Pistor, Nicholas Jc, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


St. Louis

Where: 99-acre site at corner of north Jefferson and Cass avenue, just northwest of downtown

Selling point: City location could prove attractive to younger employees; would help remake long-impoverished area

Downside: Urban land difficult to develop, would require use of eminent domain

St. Clair County

Where: 182-acre site adjacent to Scott Air Force Base

Selling point: NGA would help shield base from future threats of closure; open ground easy to develop and link with base security and infrastructure

Downside: Would on average double commute times for current NGA workers; younger employees may prefer urban site.

ST. LOUIS * A spy agency's history in St. Louis, which dates to Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, will soon have a new chapter.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will announce this week its preferred location for a massive new Western Headquarters, ending the battle between Missouri and Illinois that ensnared each state's highest-ranking officials. At stake is a $1.75 billion development project and 3,100 people working for a top-secret intelligence agency whose growing annual budget is nearly $5 billion.

While four sites are under consideration, two have emerged as favorites: an empty cornfield near Scott Air Force Base and an urban neighborhood in north St. Louis near the demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing complex.

For St. Louis, winning the battle would mean keeping jobs in the city and luring billions of investment to an impoverished area northwest of downtown. For St. Clair County, it would mean further solidifying Scott Air Force Base, the largest employer in the Metro East.

Robert Cardillo, the NGA director, is expected to announce the decision Friday morning. He had delayed it by one week so he could be in the country when the announcement is made.

Officials say Cardillo, a former deputy director of national intelligence who was appointed to head the agency in 2014, will be the sole decision-maker in a process that has been shrouded by political intrigue. President Barack Obama, who has been briefed on the selection process, is from Illinois and lobbied for Scott Air Force Base in the Senate during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process that could have shuttered the base, which houses the military's Transportation Command. Another round of base closures could come in 2017.

In 2005, top Pentagon leaders recommended moving NGA to Scott during the base realignment proceedings. The military later scrapped that plan because of lack of funding. It did, however, move the NGA's Eastern Headquarters to a $1.8 billion site near the Fort Belvoir Army base in Springfield, Va.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., a longtime friend of Obama's, said this month that he had spoken with the president about the matter, but he declined to discuss specifics. But Durbin said the decision would rest totally with Cardillo. Durbin said that he had met with Cardillo but that they had focused only on the merits of St. Clair County's proposal.

"There was no compare and contrast going on," Durbin said. As to any decision, he said Cardillo "did not show his cards."

Durbin's counterpart in Missouri is more circumspect about whether Cardillo will be influenced by the administration.

"I can't tell how much of this decision will be completely NGA," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. She suggested that the president's "Promise Zone" initiative aimed at prioritizing federal spending in struggling areas should play a role.

"The White House certainly knows this is exactly what they've been talking about" in the Promise Zone program, McCaskill said. The city's north St. Louis location falls within a Promise Zone area that was designated in 2015.

The NGA, which has taken on many names throughout its existence with the Defense Department, has grown from its original mission to map Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. …

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