- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A federal spy agency will move its regional headquarters to a new location in St. Louis rather than to a site across the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, the agency said Thursday on its website.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which has been in St. Louis for more than 70 years, announced its new western headquarters would remain in the city. The decision follows efforts to lure the agency to Illinois, though the NGA had announced in April that a blighted area in north St. Louis that was previously the site of a razed high-rise public housing complex, Pruitt-Igoe, was its preferred location.

“This is a proud day for St. Louis and for the entire State of Missouri,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a prepared statement. “This was a tough, high-stakes competition, and St. Louis won decisively.”

The NGA’s online statement said Robert Cardillo, director of the agency, signed the record of decision Thursday.

“Ultimately this location, near a quickly-growing technological and professional environment, will allow for NGA to integrate capabilities and technologies in support of our mission to provide accurate and relevant geospatial intelligence to our customers,” Cardillo said in the online statement. “I am very confident our new facility in north city will secure the future of this agency for generations to come.”

The announcement followed public comment and a fight by Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state’s two U.S. senators and several members of Congress to bring the NGA West project to an Illinois 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 the government agency, which is a branch of the Department of Defense with close ties to the U.S. Air Force and the CIA. The agency helped map lunar surfaces for moon landings nearly half a century ago and aided in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

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

Rauner’s office didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Illinois Rep. Mike Bost said the decision is “as disappointing as the methods they used to achieve it.”

“It appears that this result was baked in long ago, despite nearly every objective metric being in St. Clair County’s favor,” he said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called Cardillo’s decision “short-sighted” and endorsed calls for the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to scrutinize the process leading to Thursday’s outcome.

“Ultimately, this is just a bad decision and the people of Illinois and Missouri who work at NGA deserve a full, unbiased analysis,” Durbin said in a statement.

Missouri’s Sens. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Republican, applauded the decision.

“NGA made the right call, both for the agency and for St. Louis - and it’s great news for more than 3,000 employees and a proud 72-year legacy on the front lines of American intelligence right here in Missouri,” McCaskill said in a prepared statement.

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