US spy agency selects St. Louis location over Illinois

AP News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2016 8:53 PM
US spy agency selects St. Louis location over Illinois

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A U.S. spy agency seeking a new $1.6 billion home for its western regional headquarters expects to remain in St. Louis rather than move to the city's Illinois suburbs.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which has called St. Louis home for more than 70 years, announced Thursday the preferred location for the project is a blighted area in north St. Louis that city leaders hope will see an economic turnaround. The neighborhood was previously the site of a razed high-rise public housing complex, Pruitt-Igoe, that became shorthand for the failure of a mid-20th century social policy.

The agency's choice follows efforts by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state's two U.S. senators and several members of Congress to lure the NGA West project to a location across the Mississippi River near Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, 25 miles east of downtown St. Louis.

The two-state battle drew public notice to a government agency that prefers less attention.

A branch of the Department of Defense with close ties to both the U.S. Air Force and the CIA, the agency helped map lunar surfaces for moon landings nearly a half-century ago and also aided in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The Illinois site's early offer of hundreds of acres of free land was matched several weeks ago by St. Louis, which stood to lose more than $2 million per year in earnings taxes paid by NGA employees who now work at an aging complex south of downtown near the longtime Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Efforts by St. Louis boosters to promote the advantages of an urban location — from shorter commute times to more abundant after-work amenities — apparently resonated with agency director Robert Cardillo.

"The St. Louis city site provides NGA with the most technological, academic and professional environment," he said, adding that an urban base is preferable to "attract, recruit and retain" its more than 3,000 high-tech workers.

Cardillo emphasized in an interview with The Associated Press that a final decision will not be made for two more months, after a public comment period and likely more intense lobbying from Illinois.

"We believe St. Clair County's proposed site offers the best choice for the agency's security and future expansion, with easy access to the city of St. Louis by both road and rail," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. "We intend to respond to the agency during the comment period, for we firmly believe that Illinois is the place the agency can best grow and thrive."

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk added that he will "take full advantage of the comment period to point out that Illinois is best equipped to protect men and women in uniform."

A jubilant St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, joined by other city officials with equally wide grins at a City Hall news conference, called the announcement a "really big win" for a city whose civic pride has been battered by the recent departure of its NFL team to Los Angeles and the reverberations from a fatal police shooting and protests in nearby Ferguson.

"We're not going to sit back and take this for granted," Slay said, referring to the city's plans to turn the preliminary nod into a final commitment.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, all Democrats, and Republicans U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Ann Wagner hailed the decision as a bipartisan victory for St. Louis' economic development.

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