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ST. LOUIS – The public got its first look at renderings of the biggest development of its kind in St. Louis history: the new $1.7 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA West) headquarters in north St. Louis.

The new site at Jefferson and Cass has been cleared and ready for construction.

It hearkens to three years ago when the NFL seemed to kick St. Louis in the teeth. It turns out three other letters have become vastly more important to the city and its future: NGA.

It’s been a part of St. Louis for more than seven decades and fixture just east of the Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Still, few know it’s there or what its more than 3,000 workers actually do.

The veil is now being lifted, with new renderings of the 97-acre for the new NGA home. There’s also a new outreach from the agency to its hometown.

“I think this is going to be a game changer for us,” NGA Director Vice Admiral Robert Sharp told a crowd at St. Louis University.

The NGA has a new research and development partnership with St. Louis University and is working on similar arrangements with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Missouri.

SLU hosted NGA for a geospatial conference Tuesday. Parts of the new NGA campus will feature spaces devoted to more than the just the agency’s classified national security mission.

“It’s going to have some unclassified spaces where we can come together in a lab environment or in a classroom environment,” Vice Admiral Sharp said. “Getting kids excited about robotics, geology, geospatial intelligence, geospatial sciences.”

“We’re talking about 10,000 jobs directly related to the NGA and organizations as part of that; total probably almost 27,000 when you get the complete ripple effects,” said St. Louis University President Dr. Fred Pestello. “We are here to help reunite, transform, reimagine our city and we do that largely through the scholars who are part of our community.”

“We’re really in competition for our nation’s best minds. We’re convinced that a lot of those best minds are right here in St. Louis,” Vice Admiral Sharp said. “The applications for geospatial intelligence are limitless. What you’re doing is you’re dating a detailed understanding of the earth, its physical characteristics, then you’re layering on top of that information so that you can view and understand it.”

NGA is helping first responders providing aid to flood victims in Mozambique, he said.

In theory, such intelligence could even be used for things like combating crime in St. Louis.

Major construction on the new campus will begin in early 2020 with an expected completion of April 2023.