Bills would clean slate on Dix park deal

Posted March 14, 2013
Updated March 15, 2013

— Companion bills filed Thursday in the House and Senate would wipe away the lease of the Dorothea Dix site inked by Gov. Beverly Perdue on her way out of office, throwing into limbo a plan that would turn the central Raleigh campus into a park.

The 325-acre campus is home to a former mental hospital and many of the administrative offices for the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the terms of the Perdue-signed deal, the city would lease the property from the state for the development of a "destination park." Plans at the time of the deal called for DHHS to move off the property to another office complex.

Republicans objected at the time the deal was announced, saying the state should look at using the campus for its own purposes.

"The deal was done at well below market value," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 334.

A group of local business leaders and civic boosters known as Dix Visionaries had lobbied for years for Raleigh to gain control of the Dix property for an urban park, and the group recently pledged $3 million to help the city create a master plan for the site.

"Words cannot express how disappointed we are with the introduction of a bill that would put the preservation of the Dorothea Dix land in jeopardy," the group said in a statement. "This lease was not a politically partisan act. Dorothea Dix Park was created by support from the Council of State, mayors, elected officials, business leaders, community groups and an overwhelming majority of citizens across North Carolina.

"We are hopeful that the legislature will honor the lease with the city of Raleigh and protect the land for generations to come," the group said.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, who signed the lease with Perdue, said the effort to rescind the deal left her "shocked and sick."

Dorothea Dix property Raleigh says state should honor Dix property contract

"It's almost heartbreaking," McFarlane said. "The city went into this in good faith, and we expect the state of North Carolina to honor their contractual obligation."

City Attorney Tom McCormick spent part of the day reviewing Raleigh's legal options.

Gov. Pat McCrory, who succeeded Perdue in January, hasn't taken a stand on the proposed legislation. Spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said McCrory supports Raleigh's effort for a park, but he also would like to keep DHHS employees there.

Sen.  Louis Pate, R-Wayne, another sponsor of the Senate bill, said that some of the property was originally given to the state for the purpose of taking care of the mentally ill.

"I think the governor's action on Dec. 28 was wrong for the state," Pate said. "I think we need to go back and reclaim the Dix property for the reason it was deeded to the state in the first place."

House Minority Leader Larry Hall said that Republican legislative leaders should have agreed to expanding the state Medicaid program if they wanted to help people with mental illness.

"It sounds nice to say the money (from a renegotiated lease) will go solely to mental health, but they have not said that the money will not displace other funds," said Hall, D-Durham.

Together with House Bill 319, the bill would wipe out the 99-year, $500,000-per-year lease approved by the Council of State and city officials. The legislation calls for city and state officials to renegotiate a lease for a portion of the property to become a park but at fair market rates.

According to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office, the bill would: 

  • Direct the state Department of Administration to re-lease a portion of the Dorothea Dix campus to Raleigh at fair market value, allowing the city to move forward with its vision of a world-class park for residents and visitors.
  • Designate proceeds from the new lease agreement will fund mental health programs in the state.
  • Preserve a portion of the property to house the consolidation of 2,500 DHHS employees on-site, saving North Carolina taxpayers the expense of moving them elsewhere.
  • Instruct DOA and DHHS to study recommended uses for the remainder of the property identified in the 2007 State Government Facilities Master Plan and report their findings to the General Assembly by March 2014.
  • Maintain the purpose for the property outlined in the original deed from 1848, which said the land was to be used for the benefit of North Carolinians with mental illness.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, is one of the co-sponsors of the House bill.

Pate said he doesn't believe the bill could make other governments or businesses worry about their deals with the state.

"I believe this is a one-time thing because it was done under the last days of another administration," he said, adding that the bill would protect the taxpayers.

Hall said he doesn't think everyone will see it that way.

"If we just, every time a different party comes into power, we get to change and void previous contracts, what kind of statement does that send to the rest of North Carolinians? You can't rely on it," he said.

Pate said he believed a "destination park" was still a good idea. 

"It's a beautiful location," he said. "Raleigh should negotiate for it."

McFarlane shot back, "We already had all those negotiations, and we have a signed contract." 


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  • drkreamer Mar 21, 2013

    The Dix property is worth a ton of money if used right! There are about 300 acres, first create a park of 30 acres ( large enough), next take 10 acres to build a new mental hospital. Take the other 260 acres and lease for mix use, value of $5 to $10 million per YEAR! Set the ground rules for the lease and hold any company to the rules. That $5 to $10 million lease pays for the hospital (no new taxes for it), next take the hospital out of the state hands and let it be run by people who know how to run it and help people. The state does not run the hospital correctly, they just want to keep as many patients they can to look good instead of helping these people! After the start up it will not take $5 to $10 million a year to run the hospital so now we can use money to start lowering people's taxes. This can be done with a lot of state property, property setting idle when it could be bringing in money and lowering people's taxes!

  • wral mods blow close my account Mar 21, 2013

    "We have a signed contract."

    So the GOP is going to waste $ on lawyer fees to nullify a contract. And probably lose too. Brilliant!

  • HDStreetGlide Mar 18, 2013

    I wish all the taxpayers knew how many State Employees are in leased building that high rent is being paid for when the State own Dorothea Dix campus with pleny of space that could be renovated and move all these employee to State own property. Maybe the Department of Administration and Gov. Pat McCrory should start looking at our (taxpayers) concerns. STOP WASTEING OUR MONEY!!!!

  • Ex-Republican Mar 15, 2013

    "Designate proceeds from the new lease agreement will fund mental health programs in the state."

    Don't know why anyone is against more funding for mental health considering the recent mass shootings by psychotic people.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Mar 15, 2013

    "The Dorothea Dix site would be a great place to dump the waste fracking fluid...after all the legislative Republicans totally support fracking, believe it is completely safe and will never pollute our state's environment." - westernwake1

    Funny you should mention that...I was just reading some history on the Dix land, and it seems the state allowed use of a southern portion of the Dix property as a landfill until 1972, and even allowed dump trucks to drive over the Dix cemetery to discharge their loads.

    Hmmm. Perhaps lawyers for the City of Raleigh should negotiate a new and lower lease in the upcoming court case, based on this documented evidence of how much the state really valued Dix land in the past.

  • trubtold Mar 15, 2013

    Where is the new Governor in all this??? He is leading from the behind!!! The General assembly is putting up bills to assist Charlotte in getting the Panthers a new stadium but want to default on a signed contract with Raleigh for the Dix Campus to become a park. Tey probably have a bill in the works to move the capital to Charlotte!

  • mmtlash Mar 15, 2013

    so "driverkid3" you think it's ok for the government to sweep in whenever they please and terminate legal contracts on a whim? If you have signed a lease you think it's ok for the govt to come in whenever they please and terminate the agreement or increase the cost just b/c the legal and binding contract was completed under a prior administration? If legal contracts can be terminated w/o cause and w/o any penalties why even bother with them?

  • driverkid3 Mar 15, 2013

    Scubagirl::::A contract has been signed, things have been started and if this was just a private contract law suits would be happening for breech of contract. If this can happen once, who's to say it won't happen again for other contracts and things the city/state enters into.

    So it doesn't bother you one bit that the land was left for a hospital for the mentally ill? That contract or deed is no good to you and some others that I've seen posting on here, but you all are having hissy fits because the Governor wants to keep it for what it was deeded for in the first place. Just another example of the hypocrisy coming from the democrat party, nothing more.

  • ThomasL Mar 15, 2013

    As for the comment to me about ancestry,my family was ran from there home my grandmother was a full Cherokee so we were here first...
    As for another comment on don't forget the graveyard at dix,well they sure didn't care about the one at the orphanage that was tore down to male a parking lot and new centennial campus.Yep bulldozed right over that one beside the orphanage,we as kids would find crusificts on the headstones and the nuns would run us away.

  • westernwake1 Mar 15, 2013

    Can I suggest placing the mentally ill in the North Carolina State Legislative Building.

    Oh wait... it appears that we have already done that.