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New NGA West Location Will Gut St. Louis Place Neighborhood, Not Revitalize What Remains

The National Geospatial Agency decided to keep its Western headquarters in the City of St. Louis. The narrative around this decision is summed up nicely here:

The decision means the city will keep 3,100 jobs, currently housed at the Old Arsenal complex south of Anheuser-Busch brewery, and move them to a $1.75 billion development just northwest of downtown. The move is expected to further the city’s pursuit of redeveloping the near North Side with a massive federal anchor — something that could lure more investment to the struggling area, but also give a major boost to nearby Washington Avenue. (Post-Dispatch)

I get the first part — keeping thousands of jobs within the city. I do hear that many of the 3,100 don’t live in the City of St. Louis — they aren’t thrilled about driving to North City. But, it’s the second part that I don’t get — how does putting many acres behind chainlink fencing help those outside the fence?

The NGA will take a big chunk of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.
The NGA will take a big chunk of the St. Louis Place neighborhood.

The NGA’s high-security entrance will be facing Jefferson Ave — it’ll turn its back on the remaining neighborhood.  The NGA as an anchor institution? Hardly:

Anchor institutions are nonprofit institutions that once established tend not to move location. Emerging trends related to globalization—such as the decline of manufacturing, the rise of the service sector, and a mounting government fiscal crisis—suggest the growing importance of anchor institutions to local economies. Indeed, in many places, these anchor institutions have surpassed traditional manufacturing corporations to become their region’s leading employers. If the economic power of these anchor institutions were more effectively harnessed, they could contribute greatly to community wealth building. The largest and most numerous of such nonprofit anchors are universities and non-profit hospitals (often called “eds and meds”). Over the past two decades, useful lessons have been learned about how to leverage the economic power of universities in particular to produce targeted community benefits. (Source)

Once open, the NGA will be like the current site. Thousands will drive there, do their job, drive home. They won’t be running outside the barbwire fence to grab lunch. An employee living in, say Arnold, isn’t suddenly going to move to the neighborhood. A high-security government spy agency will never be a neighborhood anchor.

Corner pf Jefferson & Cass, April 1, 2016
Corner pf Jefferson & Cass, April 1, 2016

For those employees driving to work from Arnold, they currently drive 15.8 miles, about 20 minutes or so each way. The new location will be 20 miles, roughly 30 minutes or more.  For others, the commute to work will be shorter.

The best we can hope for is its presecence convinces others to consider relocating to the former Pruitt-Igoe site, South across Cass Ave. MetroBus might improve frequency to the area…might.

Jefferson Ave & Cass Ave both need to be updated — fewer & narrower lanes, new sidewalks, crosswalks, etc.

Sadly, our leadership still thinks razing block after block — totally erasing the street grid — is a positive thing to do. Is is 2016 or 1946?

— Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "23 comments" on this Article:

  1. addxb2 says:

    Washington Ave will be the first area to benefit. I expect some high turnover as a result of this decision. Older employees are less willing to make this ‘dangerous’ drive and will not relocate. They’ll be replaced by a younger generation.
    Let’s also remember that this project won’t be complete for another 5 years, so don’t expect new corporate entities or businesses until 2022 at the earliest.

     
    • John R says:

      I agree that downtown may be the big winner in this in terms of housing preference of NGA employees.

      As for transforming the surrounding neighborhood, I don’t have high expectations but I do believe NGA in northside will enable McKee to get more financing for other projects. For example, I wouldn’t doubt a modest housing initiative will be announced soon as intimated.

       
  2. Andy says:

    Overall, I don’t see how this development can be considered a negative and it certainly is better than nothing.

     
    • It’s the same failed policy we’ve been repeating for decades — completely destroy emissive site by removing all buildings, street grid, etc. This will block access to public transit on Jefferson, users will need to walk around rather than directly on an intact grid.

       
      • Andy says:

        Your criticisms are certainly valid and I think it would be better to have something that would keep a city grid intact. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything better on the table.

         
        • There were four total sites being considered. Because of our fractured region, the city must cling to every job. Even if that means wiping out 99 acres.

          We continue to make bad decisions because of past bad decisions. Will we ever break this cycle?

           
          • guest says:

            I would have been better had the site been located atop the old Pruitt Igoe. The claim that site remediation would have been too expensive for this project is strange. How will it be better for the next project? Why not roll those costs into the government initiative? After all, it was a failed government policy that brought us – and left us with – Pruitt Igoe in the first place. Now the cost of fixing that mistake is encumbering any possible private investment. That part I don’t get. Meanwhile, your overall negative reaction is unfortunate. On balance, this is a good thing for St. Louis.

             
          • guest says:

            …*It* would have been better…

             
          • Andy says:

            I agree that past bad decisions (such as the great divorce) have influenced other bad decisions.

            I don’t agree with your characterization of this NGA result as a bad decision. Incremental progress can’t be stalled until conditions/situations/proposals are absolutely perfect. I would say that the result is the best the city could have hoped for given the area we’re talking about and the potential loss of jobs.

             
      • Mark-AL says:

        If you haven’t already done so and if you’re looking for an interesting road trip some weekend, travel east on I-40 to Oak Ridge, TN. As you leisurely wind through the rolling hills of Tennessee, you’ll reach the final crest of the final hill on the west side of town, and then you’ll find yourself looking down at a breathtaking Currier And Ives scene below you. And when you do, you’ll be in Oak Ridge, TN, where the Dept. of Energy occupies 58 sq. miles of development, spends $ 1.5+ B annually in an effort to keep all of us up-to-date in the fields of life sciences,energy research, and other activities I don’t ever want to know about. Don’t forget to turn off you car AC, open the windows and get a whiff of what clean air smells like! This 35,000 acre chain-link-fenced government reservation is the hub of the Oak Ridge wheel. It’s the reason why Oak Ridge, TN exists. Since the early 1940s, when the Feds first opened up shop, Oak Ridge has steadily developed into the town that you’ll see today. Residential and business development happened there, and it will happen in NSL when there’s a reason for it to happen. The NGS has the potential for it to happen in NSL. I can’t imagine you are of the opinion that serious residential and business development in NSL won’t eventually happen around the NGA. It won’t happen overnight. It will take decades, and it will happen if and only if STL cleans up its act and addresses crime in the area and develops a strategy for building and administering schools that prepare kids for today’s jobs. If they play politically-correct games, continue to teach for tests, play games with test results in an attempt to cover for their ineptitude, it’s my opinion that unfortunately in 10 years we’ll be looking at another chain link fenced-in low-rise government building surrounded by acres of car-filled parking lots, all sitting by itself in the middle of a surrounding wasteland that looks very much like the NSL that we all see today.”Build It And They Will Come” has the potential of becoming probably more than a Field of Dreams chiche as it relates to NGA. (Oh, and if you decide to take the road-trip, you’ll find in Oak Ridge a mostly integrated (non-segregated) city with low crime rates and neat, modest frame homes, an excellent research hospital highly regarded all over the world, modern shopping and beautiful landscapes.)

         
        • The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is very different. It is set among trees, not an existing street grid. It is penetrable, not a fortress. The 3,100 NGA employees do spend lots in the region. The annual payroll is very important. Decades later their earnings won’t be spent within 1-3 miles of the NGA.

           
          • Mark-AL says:

            I wasn’t aware that the lab campus is now penetrable. When I visited Oak Ridge 6 years ago, 12′ barbed-wire fences still surrounded most–if not all- the campus. (Tours, however, are conducted from June through September, so the site must not be as accessible as, say, a shopping mall.) So some sort of barrier between campus and city (if not physical, then psychological) does seem to exist.

            I question why you think that in the future, employees of NGA won’t be spending their money in the surrounding NGS areas. If lower crime, better schools, and affordable housing happen, there won’t be a reason for employees to commute.

             
  3. guest says:

    “Anchor institutions” (or better put – “community anchors”) are not limited to nonprofit institutions.

     
  4. The Ghost of H L Mencken says:

    I agree this will in no way revitalize the area. That’s like saying Emerson is revitalizing Cool Valley and Normandy. Only the truly naive believe that. Workers will stay in their little bubble, period. I, too, think losing the street grid is unfortunate and should have been avoided.

     
  5. JZ71 says:

    To see what their current facility looks like in Arnold, google Vogel Road and Theodore Drive and switch to streetview. Yes, it is secure, with fences. Yes, it is suburban in scale. No, it is not horrendous. We’ve been waiting for 50-70 years for this part north city to change direction, economically. The old city grid hasn’t been getting many takers, and certainly not many in the large-employer category. Doing nothing is an “option”, but one that won’t yield any significant results, in the foreseeable future. There will be many, many, many developable blocks of the old city grid still left, around the area, after this happens – getting a new, major, stable, employer, in the middle of it, might just change people’s perceptions and lead to, horrors, gentrification!

     
  6. JZ71 says:

    To see what their current facility looks like in Arnold, google Vogel Road and Theodore Drive and switch to streetview. Yes, it is secure, with fences. Yes, it is suburban in scale. No, it is not horrendous. We’ve been waiting for 50-70 years for this part of north city to change direction, economically. The old city grid hasn’t been getting many takers, and certainly not many in the large-employer category. Doing nothing is an “option”, but one that won’t yield any significant results, in the foreseeable future. There will be many, many, many developable blocks of the old city grid still left, around the area, after this happens – getting a new, major, stable, employer, in the middle of it, might just change people’s perceptions and lead to, horrors, gentrification!

     
  7. RyleyinSTL says:

    I’ve been up in this area alot for work. Yes it’s sad to destroy the street grid, yes it’s sad that this project will literally be fenced off from the surrounding area. However what is there now is deplorable and mostly abandoned. There is evidence of some attempts at infill and nearly ALL of it has failed. I live in the city and would love nothing more than to see this part of town return to its old glory but that just isn’t going to happen any time soon. We can all agree that a suburban office park isn’t what North City needs but neither is another 25 years of decay.

     
  8. Adam says:

    while i agree with your criticism about the anti-urban nature of the facility, St. Louis place is already gutted. i just don’t see organic development filling this area in our lifetimes without something to kick-start it. my hope is that the NGA, as an employment center for potentially 5000 people, will attract developers interested in capturing the increasingly younger segment of that workforce that wants a short commute and urban lifestyle. i’m not necessarily opposed to eminent domain here, but i think the government should be required to move the homes of those who want to keep their homes, and to move the Buster Brown factory across the street since it’s on the National Register (which is doable and for less than i would have expected).

     
  9. Brian says:

    Is a street grid really worth anything if nothing is occupying the vast majority of space on the street? Isn’t just concrete with no purpose at that point?

     

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