More than 200 people attended a public forum last week to advocate for St. Clair County to be picked as the site for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) western headquarters, a move that Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan called the most sensible decision.
In April, the NGA’s director announced that the headquarters would likely be built in North St. Louis. The final decision is expected today.
Dunstan, who was at a May 27 forum in O'Fallon, said that if the decision had been considered from a business perspective, there wouldn’t have been any question about the choice.
“I think this was a political decision,” Dunstan said. “If this was a business decision and the NGA was a business, it would locate at the St. Clair County site. I think St. Clair County came up with everything they could come up with.”
Because of the St. Clair County’s site proximity to Scott Air Force Base and the fact the county was offering 100 acres for free, with the possibility of 200 more acres available for expansion, the NGA would have been ready to start construction as soon as the decision was made, he said.
The North St. Louis site, which is part of an area targeted for urban renewal by the federal government, will require the use of eminent domain.
Dunstan said the St. Clair County location would be more cost-effective.
“I think they're going to have problems with the St. Louis site," he said.
The project, which is budgeted for $1.6 billion, will give the NGA a new home. Currently the agency, which collects geospatial intelligence and produces maps for the government, has its western headquarters in the former arsenal building south of St. Louis.
Dunstan said he sees the decision to use the North St. Louis site as a failure on the part of elected and government officials to think about the region as a whole.
“If we operated as a region, knowing what Scott Air Force Base means to the region, we'd be doing everything we can to enhance Scott Air Force Base,” he said. “It's one of the largest employers in the St. Louis metropolitan area. What better way to enhance Scott Air Force Base than to put NGA West next to it. The sad thing is that we often don't think as a region, and when we don't think as a region, we lose as a region.”
Dunstan credited the St. Clair County Board, the state’s senators and governor, and the region’s legislative delegation, including state Rep. Mike Bost (R-12), who hosted the forum, for their hard work on trying to bring the NGA West project to St. Clair County. The group made a bipartisan effort to show the NGA and others that the site was the best choice, he said.
“I'm hoping that somehow that a rabbit can be pulled out of a hat to get this to go to the St. Clair County site,” Dunstan said.