Council of State delays downtown Raleigh land sales

Posted December 6, 2016

McCrory's videotaped concession speech

— Gov. Pat McCrory spent his final Council of State meeting Tuesday urging his colleagues to sell buildings he called "an embarrassment" to state government and downtown Raleigh, but both land sales were put on hold.

"That piece of land is the biggest damned eyesore," McCrory said of an old training center across the street from William Peace University. "It's a piece of crap building."

McCrory, a Republican, has spent much of his four-year tenure pushing for the reuse, sale or demolition of outmoded government buildings. In Raleigh, he has dubbed the effort "Project Phoenix." The most visible part of the plan has been the sale of old state-owned Victorian mansions on Blount Street, most of which will be renovated and turned into office space.

The outgoing governor expressed frustration at the slow pace of redevelopment generally and the council's reticence to move on these particular projects specifically.

"We're setting up bureaucratic roadblocks," McCrory complained, calling a Charlotte property under discussion a "blight" and an "eyesore."

He was even saltier about a trio of old buildings on property known as Caswell Square on North Dawson Street, saying that dilapidated government facilities had become part of the Raleigh landscape.

"You don't even notice how crappy it looks," McCrory said.

The Council of State is made up of North Carolina's 10 statewide elected officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor and positions such as commissioner of agriculture. One of their major responsibilities is approving land sales and acquisitions, a normally perfunctory procedure that turned into an hour discussion of two properties in Raleigh and one in Charlotte on Tuesday.

Council members approved the sale of an old prison near the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and across the street from the Billy Graham Library. There was some discussion about whether lawmakers had been given enough time to sign off on the transaction, but in the end, only outgoing State Treasurer Janet Cowell objected to the sale.

In Raleigh, developers want to turn the old state training center across the street from William Peace University into a mixed-used retail and residential development. The 12 employees who regularly work in the building, as well as a training center, would move to unused space in another government building.

"I think it's going to be out of place," said Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who worried that the increased traffic and construction would be a danger to state employees.

But McCrory said that sort of property is an ideal place to put more people because it would continue to feed activity in downtown Raleigh, which can die out after 5 p.m. on weekdays. It would, he argued, fit in with other developments that have brought restaurants, townhomes and other businesses into the center city.

"We're getting a little life in downtown Raleigh for the first time," he said.

Caswell Square was part of the historic plan for open space in downtown Raleigh but has long been occupied by government buildings. Still, there were objections from some that selling it for medical offices and a parking lot as planned would sacrifice history and be counter to plans developed by the City of Raleigh.

The council put plans to sell both the Caswell Square property and the training center on hold for more study. The next time the Council of State has a chance to approve the sale, it will be chaired by Roy Cooper, a Democrat who did not attend Tuesday's meeting as attorney general and who will be inaugurated next month as governor.


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