Local, State and Federal Cooperation Paves Way for New NGA Facility in North St. Louis
– EPA Region 7 Feature –
By Emily Albano, Office of Public Affairs
Construction on the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency West facility, or Next NGA West, in North St. Louis is well underway in 2021. With a price tag of $1.7 billion, the new campus will include a 700,000-square-foot office building, two parking garages, and a visitor center. Over 3,100 people will work at the complex, bringing life and activity to a corner of the city that had long been economically depressed.
Without the coordination between the city of St. Louis, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and EPA, the new campus might still be an underdeveloped brownfields site.
It was a long road and a lot of work just to get to the first shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking. The first step in the journey from eyesore to economic boon came in 2012.
The NGA was looking at moving from its location at 3200 South 2nd Street. The old building desperately needed upgrades and the infrastructure was aging. After running the numbers, EPA realized that it would make more sense, both logistically and economically, to build a new facility rather than upgrade the old one. NGA was considering moving out of the St. Louis area altogether, taking jobs and tax dollars with them, with a greenspace across the Missouri-Illinois border that could have been developed without extensive environmental assessment or remediation.
But the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC), in coordination with the city of St. Louis, saw an opportunity to preserve the NGA’s footprint there. These partners had painstakingly acquired 97 acres of underdeveloped brownfields land that was big enough to house an NGA facility. Adjacent to the former Pruitt Igoe location, the 300-parcel site had been a mix of commercial and residential use, including businesses that contributed to contamination: former dry cleaners, service stations, junk yards, and chemical facilities.
This brownfields site was an ideal location for the Next NGA West facility, but it had to be cleaned up and prepared for redevelopment, which was a huge undertaking considering the size and history of the site.
The partners’ foresight and planning paid off, and in 2015, the SLDC received notice they were being awarded the Next NGA West site.
However, the site still needed to be assessed and remediated through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ (MoDNR’s) Voluntary Cleanup Program and be issued a Certificate of Completion.
After conducting some initial assessments, MoDNR requested EPA’s assistance through its Targeted Brownfield Assessment program, which helps states, tribes and municipalities minimize the uncertainties of contamination often associated with brownfield sites. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force, which would ultimately run the facility, required that EPA provide a No Further Remedial Action Planned (NFRAP) determination for construction to begin.
“For the state of Missouri, this was really an unprecedented project,” said Wes March, MoDNR project manager for the site. “We were tasked with finding a way to reverse a cleanup and federal transfer process that traditionally only worked in one direction. This was on top of the $47 million in remedial tax credits and $200,000 in environmental assessment funding already being provided to prepare the site for redevelopment.”
EPA Region 7 worked with the SDLC and MoDNR to complete the Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), which identified underground storage tanks and elevated levels of arsenic and lead in the soil, as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the groundwater. After assessment, cleanup activities to prepare the site for construction included removal of buried construction and demolition waste, digging up and hauling away underground storage tanks, and removing over 700,000 tons of contaminated soil.
The collaboration between the partners paid off, and on Oct. 17, 2018, EPA officially notified the city of St. Louis that it had made the needed NFRAP determination. The plans for the new NGA West site could go ahead.
The Next NGA West campus is scheduled to open in 2025. The facility will have a LEED Silver certification and is aiming to be a zero-energy building by 2030, meaning that it will produce enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy requirements.
“Through collaboration with our many federal and local stakeholders, the state was able to provide a cleanup determination that satisfied all requirements,” March said. “We hope the hard work and success of this project will encourage more of these redevelopments in the future.”
- Learn more about land revitalization in EPA Region 7.