- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A federal spy agency is weighing offers of free land on both the Missouri and Illinois sides of the St. Louis area as it considers where to relocate its national headquarters.

Several top political leaders from the Missouri side of the region announced at a news conference Monday that 99 acres of no-cost land is now part of the effort to woo the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to north St. Louis.

Illinois leaders are also offering free land near Scott Air Force base and have pledged $115 million for transportation improvements around that site. That would include a new highway interchange and an extension of the MetroLink light rail system.

The agency’s western regional headquarters are currently near the Anheuser-Busch brewery south of downtown, but a bigger, more modern facility is needed. The agency employs more than 3,000 workers.

The government has chosen four finalist sites for the relocation: North St. Louis city, two sites in St. Louis County, and near the air force base in St. Clair County, Illinois. An announcement is expected in early April.

Missouri leaders are largely behind the north St. Louis site. Mayor Francis Slay was joined by Gov. Jay Nixon, Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay and others to make a public pitch for it.

“St. Louis is where the NGA has made its home for more than 70 years, and St. Louis is far and away the best place for the NGA to build a brighter, more secure future,” Nixon said.

Nixon’s office said the Missouri Department of Economic Development would make up to $95 million in tax increment financing and about $36 million in Brownfield tax credits available for the NGA project if St. Louis is approved.

Most of the St. Louis city site consists of vacant lots and crumbling buildings. Advocates say it is a chance to help revitalize the city’s north side. But federal records show that some NGA employees have expressed fear about their safety if the agency moves to north St. Louis, where crime is high.

Keeping the jobs is especially crucial since a move by the agency would cost St. Louis about $2 million annually in earnings tax funds. Slay has said losing the NGA would be a “devastating blow.”

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan has countered that the federal government needs to do what is best for the NGA.

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