NGA Goes Public with 136-Acre Plan for North St. Louis City

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In July, nextSTL was first to reveal that the City of St. Louis is set to offer the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency much more than the 34-acre Pruitt-Igoe for its new headquarters. The NGA has now gone public with a proposed site plan for North St. Louis that shows an even more expansive 136-acre footprint.

A statement on the newly created Next NGA West website reads “NGA, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to study environmental impacts of a new location in St. Louis. They need the public’s help to find out the impact on surrounding neighborhoods and community.” Public meetings take place next week. The St. Louis City site is one of four in the region being considered.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board wrote a bombastic endorsement which read in part, “The Pruitt-Igoe site, in the center of the NorthSide Regeneration project that is the dream of developer Paul McKee, is the only choice.” The board had surely been made aware of the larger extent of the project, but deceptively chose to only speak of Pruitt-Igoe, or just one-fourth of the site. Nearly five months later, the Post-Dispatch has not published a news article on the project.

Our estimate in July was an additional 88 acres, or 22 city blocks, for a 122-acre site. The 136-acre measurement includes additional parcels. Considering ~3,000 jobs, this would represent about 22 jobs per acre, a small count for even a suburban office park. Even across a largely vacant part of North St. Louis, hard question need to be asked about best land use.

From our July story: In a city built prior to the arrival of the automobile, such a project would erase the past and present an entirely new development pattern, one nearly four times larger than Pruitt-Igoe itself, the failure of which has been often cited as being too monolithic. While covering perhaps the most vacant portion of NorthSide, images show a couple dozen homes, and several businesses currently occupy the site. Developer Paul Mckee (NorthSide) owns the majority of parcels needed for the project, but not all.

Again from July: Returning to the P-D editorial, “The implosion of the Pruitt-Igoe experiment more than 40 years ago was due in part to a failure of local, state and federal officials to develop sound policy that worked together, in terms of community building and serving the poor. Today more than ever, the mostly poor, mostly African-American north side of St. Louis needs investment more than any other area of the St. Louis region. More than Fenton. More than Scott. More than the central corridor.”

Now that what nextSTL reported has been confirmed by the NGA, it will be interesting to see if the Post-Dispatch, and other news outlets, fully present, and openly discuss the impact of giving 136 acres of the central city to one user. Retaining jobs in the city is important, but what is being proposed here will have a significant impact on the city and residents.

For many reasons, this proposal should receive honest and thorough scrutiny. We know that the NGA jobs are not leaving the region (the other sites being considered are in Mehlville, Fenton, and St. Clair County). The 136-acre single user is far from any plan or vision offered of the decade old NorthSide development, and presents an extreme anti-urban development pattern. The NGA would also be a tax-exempt user, erasing potential revenue from a big swath of the city.

{proposed 136-acre NGA site in yellow, NorthSide in red}

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Site plan image added 6/6/15:

NGA

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  • Daron

    dear lord is that a lake…

    • Alex Ihnen

      As someone mentioned to me, it’s probably the best way to meet stormwater retention issues as much as anything else. :/

  • NM

    Is it true this location was dropped from consideration?

  • T

    First read this as “PGA”. That’d be kinda cool. And keep the Pruitt-Igoe memorial forest.

  • Retired1811

    We are St. Clair (not Claire) County. Look to the east, that’s us. We are Illinois’ first County having been founded in 1790 (28 years before the State of IL in 1818. We will celebrate #225 next year). I love the STL region and the City! But we are one region and the SW IL side is 25% of that region and growing. The river does divide us. I was the only IL resident on the stl250 Board. But back to NGA, our site is immediately adjacent to Scott Air Force Base and next to the new I-64 interchange we and IDOT are building (exit 21). Scott is a regional asset with a $3.5 billion annual econ. impact. Our job is to grow and enhance Scott and NGA would be a logical fit given NGA’s work w/ USTRANSCOM and DISA (both at Scott). My name is Terry Beach but had trouble logging in under my real name. More here: http://nextngawest.com @SCCEconDev

  • Guest

    Very excited to see that area under consideration for the NGA. But, where’s the site plan the story mentions?

    • Alex Ihnen

      The site plan to-date is simply an outline of the area being evaluated under the EIS. You make a good point, that it’s not really a site plan per se.

    • Guest

      Very excited to see that area under consideration for the NGA. But, where’s the site plan the story mentions?

      • Alex Ihnen

        The site plan to-date is simply an outline of the area being evaluated under the EIS. You make a good point, that it’s not really a site plan per se.

        • Erickson

          North City site has been dropped from consideration…im sure they will still do the dog and pony show until the very last minute and keep it in the running…but its done to Melville and Scott

          • NM

            Is this true or just a rumor? Wasn’t there a total of 4 locations? Now, it’s down to just 2?

  • Mike

    30 years of nothing up there…someone wants to put a $500,000,000 building on the site with 3000 workers that can grew to 5-6k and we want to be picky….OOOOOOOKAY

    • Alex Ihnen

      It interesting, because I know people who think the state of the city is due to being too picky about development, and some who think it’s due to not being picky enough. I think the city has more shared ownership than a subdivison, or suburban office park. People should weigh in more often, not less. That input does need to be filtered and understood in context.

  • Andy Arganbreit

    You folks have a very interesting and appreciated perspective, and I’m going to throw a few items into the discussion.

    Considerable growth: you recognize that angle. Is DoD going to grow or recede under the current and future administrations?

    Groundskeeping/maintenance: big job, helps employ new citizens.

    New jobs for North Side residents: could happen with competitive bidding.

    These folks are already paying millions of dollars in taxes at a current city facility, just being forced to a new facility. Old one will be taken by other Feds, also already in the city. There are currently four bidders, only one of which is in the city proper. Accept the site, or they go elsewhere, either the county or IL.

    Perhaps there are multiple suitors champing at the bit to overtake this property, and if so, good for the city, as it is a great one. This is a desolate wasteland, and I challenge anyone to walk solo from 13th to Grand along Cass.

    There are multiple bidders looking to house this cash cow, and if the city doesn’t want it, no problem for them, but I’d hate to lose the opportunity.

    • John R

      Interesting thought of the Feds putting other workers into the existing facility…. I wouldn’t count on it though. Maybe they can move back all the Veterans Admin workers the criminals at the GSA are looting downtown of and smuggling out to Overland! Put 3,000 workers at the south city site and 3,000 – 5,000 workers in a better-than-expected site plan for Northside then we could get a pretty sweet outcome.

  • JMedwick

    Site selection is one thing, but is the site plan set in stone? If not, the City should be pushing HARD to get this to be more than 5,000 jobs, ideally with a residential component north of Madison. St. Louis, for bad reasons, has the eyes of the Feds trained on it. Use the unrest in Ferguson as an opportunity to get more out of the feds than we normally could in terms of design and scope.

  • John R

    What frustrates me is that we have great Saint Louis companies being unleashed in redeveloping Pittsburgh but aren’t being sent to the frontlines of our own city…. the latest is Clayco/Forum’s lead on the new 250,000 sq.ft. headquarters for US Steel in the Consol Arena mixed-use development that is putting BPV to shame. McCormack Baron already snagged the residential component that will put several hundred new units to the site and the company in symphony with the city also snagged a coveted federal grant that will re-energize an area rather similar to Saint Louis Place.
    Great things are possible for downtown and the near north side but we seem to be locked in to develpers like McKee and Cordish/Cards that are working at a glacial pace and haven’t been able to unlock the kind of urban redevelopment that is taking place in cities across the US. Hopefully these guys come through but they haven’t given reason for a lot of confidence yet.

  • John R

    What frustrates me is that we have great Saint Louis companies being unleashed in redeveloping Pittsburgh but aren’t being sent to the frontlines of our own city…. the latest is Clayco/Forum’s lead on the new 250,000 sq.ft. headquarters for US Steel in the Consol Arena mixed-use development that is putting BPV to shame. McCormack Baron already snagged the residential component that will put several hundred new units to the site and the company in symphony with the city also snagged a coveted federal grant that will re-energize an area rather similar to Saint Louis Place.
    Great things are possible for downtown and the near north side but we seem to be locked in to develpers like McKee and Cordish/Cards that are working at a glacial pace and haven’t been able to unlock the kind of urban redevelopment that is taking place in cities across the US. Hopefully these guys come through but they haven’t given reason for a lot of confidence yet.

  • John R

    What frustrates me is that we have great Saint Louis companies being unleashed in redeveloping Pittsburgh but aren’t being sent to the frontlines of our own city…. the latest is Clayco/Forum’s lead on the new 250,000 sq.ft. headquarters for US Steel in the Consol Arena mixed-use development that is putting BPV to shame. McCormack Baron already snagged the residential component that will put several hundred new units to the site and the company in symphony with the city also snagged a coveted federal grant that will re-energize an area rather similar to Saint Louis Place.
    Great things are possible for downtown and the near north side but we seem to be locked in to develpers like McKee and Cordish/Cards that are working at a glacial pace and haven’t been able to unlock the kind of urban redevelopment that is taking place in cities across the US. Hopefully these guys come through but they haven’t given reason for a lot of confidence yet.

  • Eddie Roth

    Was the 175-acre single user General Motors plant at Natural Bridge and Union “anti-urban”? https://www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/3441898767/

    • jhoff1257

      No, but it also doesn’t have a 500 foot set back and a security barrier. Plus it was built in a larger industrial area, not smack in the center of a residential neighborhood near the center of the City.

      Nice try though. You’d think a city employee would have at least some scrutiny for a project of this size and scope that will change a massive part of the city for the foreseeable future. Instead you throw this “take what we can get” attitude in our faces. As Alex said, you can’t build a city “100 acres at a time.” Jesus, you think you’d know this by now with all of our previous massive failures. The silver bullet has never worked in St. Louis and it is a huge shame that even today our representatives and city officials still can’t figure that out.

    • jhoff1257

      No, but it also doesn’t have a 500 foot set back and a security barrier. Plus it was built in a larger industrial area, not smack in the center of a residential neighborhood near the center of the City.

      Nice try though. You’d think a city employee would have at least some scrutiny for a project of this size and scope that will change a massive part of the city for the foreseeable future. Instead you throw this “take what we can get” attitude in our faces. As Alex said, you can’t build a city “100 acres at a time.” Jesus, you think you’d know this by now with all of our previous massive failures. The silver bullet has never worked in St. Louis and it is a huge shame that even today our representatives and city officials still can’t figure that out.

      • John R

        Excellent point about the location…. the P-I site is in an extremely accessible part of our central city just blocks away from Downtown West. As such, the area ideally should be redeveloped as mixed-use and reflective of a confident and re-emerging city. Not to say a large single employer automatically should be precluded, but it all boils down to the details.

        • jhoff1257

          Exactly. And for the record, I have no issue with the NGA moving to North City. Just build something in an urban form that can coexist with potential future development. Building a security fortress will not produce the organic development that a neighborhood needs to thrive. At most we’ll see a few fast food restaurants for those that don’t want to exit their car for a quick bite.

      • John R

        Excellent point about the location…. the P-I site is in an extremely accessible part of our central city just blocks away from Downtown West. As such, the area ideally should be redeveloped as mixed-use and reflective of a confident and re-emerging city. Not to say a large single employer automatically should be precluded, but it all boils down to the details.

    • jhoff1257

      No, but it also doesn’t have a 500 foot set back and a security barrier. Plus it was built in a larger industrial area, not smack in the center of a residential neighborhood near the center of the City.

      Nice try though. You’d think a city employee would have at least some scrutiny for a project of this size and scope that will change a massive part of the city for the foreseeable future. Instead you throw this “take what we can get” attitude in our faces. As Alex said, you can’t build a city “100 acres at a time.” Jesus, you think you’d know this by now with all of our previous massive failures. The silver bullet has never worked in St. Louis and it is a huge shame that even today our representatives and city officials still can’t figure that out.

    • Expat Pat

      Natural Bridge and Union? I can’t place the site. What does it look like today? The image above appears to be from the 1940s? How is that area today? The city’s website says its near “Kingsway West” and “Walnut Park East” neighborhoods. What are those places like?

    • Adam

      So we have your word that NGA will build up to the sidewalk then? Also, since the GM building in the photo wasn’t a 175-acre building, could you perhaps share a photo showing what occupied the rest of the site?

  • Eddie Roth

    Was the 175-acre single user General Motors plant at Natural Bridge and Union “anti-urban”? https://www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/3441898767/

  • Eddie Roth

    Was the 175-acre single user General Motors plant at Natural Bridge and Union “anti-urban”? https://www.flickr.com/photos/mohistory/3441898767/

  • guestABC

    Why couldn’t something this monolithic go on the near north riverfront? Keep the momentum going there, adjacent to Hyde Park.

  • JCougar

    Count me in on the side of “we really just need to get the ball rolling” on the north side. At the very least, having a real development going down on these acres will cut through all the pessimism that infects this city regarding the area. It will be a psychological victory even if it generates $0 in new tax revenue. Also, I kind of doubt this notion that if you build this as a fortress-like suburban development, that everyone that works there is going to get in their cars and flee to their homes in the suburbs via the interstate. Some will, but some will not, and even if these workers choose not to live in adjacent redeveloped land, they may very well decide the CWE, Grand Center, or Downtown is a reasonable place to live and commute. I understand people’s desires for some sort of sanity when it comes to prudent and urban-style land use here. And that would be the ultimate goal. But at this point, I’d be willing to push just about anything through if it adds jobs. How many more decades does this land have to be nearly vacant for people to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good?

    • onecity

      Vacant is okay. Vacant has potential. A sea of parking surrounded by high security barbed wire is lost potential. Also, 122 acres and only 3000 to 5000 jobs? Is that a joke? I’d be all in if it were TWELVE acres. But 122? Let someone else have them. It’s not even a case of perfect is the enemy of good, because this proposal is not good. Who wants to live next to that? Who would put a business across the street from a giant dead zone – which is what it will be? We can do better.

    • Hannah

      For what it’s worth, these workers currently work just south of downtown.

  • onecity

    A lake surrounded by paths and a parkway would be a vastly better use of this land. Does the NGS really need 136 acres for 5000 employees? Seriously, what a total and complete waste of potential.

    • onecity

      Also, there is no reason the NGS facility couldn’t fit itself into the P-I footprint. None. The city will never get these blocks back.

  • RJ

    I would think the larger acreage of land means a facility similar to what NGA has in Virginia which could mean several thousand more jobs. I would hope the surrounding area would have new housing developments creating an integrated neighborhood which is what St. Louis desperately needs.

  • moorlander

    I feel like we’re being given a bad plan to keep thousands of jobs. On one hand I want to do everything possible to keep those 3k-5k jobs in the city. On the other hand we have this giant fortress (prison). Would they consider building a taller building on a narrower footprint in order to conserve space yet retain the setback requiements?

    • Alex Ihnen

      Interesting how the needle seems to move with something like this – meaning, if the NGA were to now say, “We only need the Pruitt-Igoe site, and 10 acres on the other side of Cass for parking,” it would feel like a reasonable proposal.

      There’s so much we don’t know about the eventual proposal here. It’s too early to be for or against this idea, but I think there’s good reason to be skeptical. It’s amazing how little scrutiny the powers-that-be are comfortable with.

  • Eddie Roth
  • Eddie Roth
  • Tim

    Another thing to consider along with what will happen with this new site is what is going to happen to the old NGA headquarters? If it just lays vacant it will just be shifting the problem of empty unused space from one part of the city to the other.

    • John R

      Great question….. potentially it could be integrated into a pretty cool public museum/space. But it’s out-of-the-wayness and proximity to industry probably will make for a challenging re-use.

    • John R

      Great question….. potentially it could be integrated into a pretty cool public museum/space. But it’s out-of-the-wayness and proximity to industry probably will make for a challenging re-use.

    • John R

      Great question….. potentially it could be integrated into a pretty cool public museum/space. But it’s out-of-the-wayness and proximity to industry probably will make for a challenging re-use.

  • Tysalpha

    In terms of neighborhood impact, this could be similar to other large campus employers have on their neighborhoods. You aren’t going to see restaurants and botique stores popping up outside the main gate; but local businesses proximate to it AND other employers would definitely benefit. The stretch of Jefferson from Washington to I-64, and Olive from Jefferson to Grand, for example.

    Also, while the NGA needs a highly skilled workforce and that doesn’t change wherever it is, don’t forget all of the facilities support services that a large campus employer needs: groundskeeping, cafeteria, housekeeping, maintenance, internal mail delivery, etc. Those are good, stable jobs that conceviably could be filled by people living nearby (now, or in the future).

    • rgbose

      What will happen to the people and businesses doing those things currently?

  • Tpekren

    I think it is essentially rumor or speculation but has it or hasn’t been stated that NGA is looking to expand employee count with a new facility I think numbers as high as 5,000 jobs, or additional 2000 more jobs added, have been passed on here and there. Didn’t even McKee at one point stated publically about securing a 5,000 employee business before the NGA site selection became public.
    .
    Also, until more details of how the site is utilized and what the impacts it is tough to say how it would be developed. NGA is searching based on maximum footprint over multi decade cycle for all we know at this moment which would suggest more jobs not less over long term. So I’m in the camp that without a major employer or anchor it could literally be decades before this area would be built out again. So why not take stab at something is better than nothing with an employer that can send pack up and leave with 3000 jobs and the earnings tax that goes with it. Heck SBC/ATT literally did that downtown and what was the impact, not good.

  • Alex Devlin

    Would these plans dissect Cass Ave or will they avoid separating it?

  • Alex Ihnen

    Just a few things that should be better understood:

    Existing tax revenue of development footprint and predicted revenue with minimal development – what would it take to equal NGA revenue

    City earnings tax revenue – including consideration that this tax could go away since city voters must vote every five years to keep the tax

    Who pays for infrastructure improvement – the city wanted $25M for streets and infrastructure in recent bond issue, that ultimately wasn’t included

  • Presbyterian

    If the feds decide they want all of this, they would do well to include the best lanscaping on the planet. If this becomes a hundred acres of surface parking lots with a pond and razor wire chain link fence, then Northside is dead. No one will want to live next to that.

    If they could limit the project to the Pruitt-Igoe site, then we’re looking at a much more manageable environmental impact.

  • Bn

    They have to have long term plans to expand the number if jobs if they are going with a site this big. That is the only thing that makes sense with a site this massive.

    • Breaux

      Given the current federal and DOD budget situation, I would not bet on it.

  • Brian

    To be sure, there is not much going on in this area now, and, Paul McKee’s promises notwithstanding, there is not likely to be much development there in the next 10 years. Still, it would be great to have something that would have a bigger impact. 22 jobs per acre is incredibly wasteful. While the earnings tax revenue is welcome, it is not new revenue; it is merely keeping the existing payroll within the city. I cannot imagine the workers will go off campus much for lunch. When the day is done, they will hop in their cars and head out to their homes in the suburbs. Rather than enhance the redevelopment of the Northside, this project will likely inhibit it. It is a huge, inert mass, lodged in the throat of the North St. Louis.

  • Danny

    This is the area that will be reviewed for the EIS for the Feds. That doesn’t mean the entire 122 acres that are being reviewed under the EIS are being offered or proposed for use by the NGA in the end.

    Keep scrutinizing, I agree, but it’s not time to panic.

  • ParallelParker

    Put me down as being in favor of “honest and thorough scrutiny” of this proposal, but also put me down as a realist. The issue might be seen as how this proposal compares to what has been in place on this site and this area of town for decades. I drive through this area practically everyday and what is there is essentially a vacant, desolate wasteland. There is nothing remotely urban about it. On the north side of the City of St. Louis 3,000 jobs would have a very significant impact, including generation of what could be more than a million dollars in earning tax revenue.

    • Adam

      Sure the earnings tax is important. However, they’ll likely be taking most of their current employees with them, so this isn’t going to result in significant new jobs for north side residents. I think it’s just as important to consider how this might hinder any prospective urban development on the north side for decades and decades.

      • Tysalpha

        The jobs impact (for north side residents) would likely be from jobs the site needs for support services. Groundskeeping, maintenance, housekeeping, etc. Conservative guesstimate: 25% on top of the permanent fulltime employment. And it could be much more.

        • Adam

          To reiterate a comment made above, what about the people who are currently filling those roles? Unless there’s considerable growth after the move, the net number of new jobs could be small to zero. It really will depend on whether or not they’re planning to add a couple thousand new jobs.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think there’s a lot of merit to the anything-is-better-than-nothing argument – and to be sure, the NGA isn’t a small thing. We’ll be looking at this in several ways, but an initial guess is that it wouldn’t take much development here to produce tax revenue equal to what the NGA would produce. Let’s also not forget that the city passed a NorthSide $390M TIF package. If this project is built on a large scale, we can say goodbye to all the multiple jobs centers, residential development and neighborhoods that have been identified as the preferred use. Those haven’t happened yet, but build this and the possibility is gone for 50yrs, maybe more.