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Boosters pledge $3M to Raleigh for Dix park planning

Posted December 3, 2012
Updated December 4, 2012

— Groups that back the idea of turning the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus in downtown Raleigh into a park on Monday pledged $3 million to the city to help plan the conversion.

The Council of State, which is made of the 10 North Carolina officials elected statewide, is set to meet 9 a.m. on Tuesday to vote on a deal that would lease Dix's 325 acres to Raleigh. The group has the power to approve and reject deals involving state property.

Watch the Council of State's meeting Tuesday morning live on WRAL.com beginning at 9 a.m.

If the Council of State approves the deal, the Raleigh City Council will discuss the matter behind closed doors Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Russell Allen said. Any vote to accept the lease arrangement would have to be made in open session.

The A.J. Fletcher Foundation committed $1 million toward the planning effort, and Gregory Poole Jr., a retired developer who leads Dix Visionaries, said other supporters would donate another $2 million to draft a master plan for the park.

The foundation is led by Jim Goodmon, chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., the parent company of WRAL, and his wife, Barbara Goodmon.

"This area is a big place, and it deserves big ideas," Jim Goodmon said at a news conference on the Dix property. "This area deserves something like this."

The Dix campus is owned by the state of North Carolina. It was once home to a mental hospital, but the campus is now mainly occupied by Department of Health and Human Resources offices.

Gov. Beverly Perdue plans to move those offices away from Dix and consolidate them with other DHHS offices throughout Wake County. That plan would have taken state workers in 60 different buildings and placed them in a total of five or six.

A proposal calls for the state to lease the campus to Raleigh for up to 99 years. As a condition of the lease, the city will lease back to the state the office space it currently occupies until a consolidation plan can be worked out and executed.

Details of the lease revealed in the Council of State's agenda show that the city would pay $500,000 per year to the state. The price for the lease would rise by 1.5 percent every year, but the city would get a discount for any property that the state is still using.

Dorothea Dix Deal in hand, Raleigh moving to turn Dix campus into park

Poole said the park would be a boon for the regional economy and would rival Central Park in New York and Millennium Park in Chicago as destinations for visitors.

"Great cities in America have great parks," he said.

Quoting Dorothea Dix herself, who came to Raleigh in the 1840s to scout out a site for a mental health facility, Poole said the campus "gives us a commanding view of the city and is believed to be very healthy ground."

"This is a park now. It needs to be preserved. It can be North Carolina's jewel," he said. "North Carolina has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save this jewel. If we don't save it, it's gone. I do not suspect it will ever be the park at the size or magnitude that we're talking about."

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane hasn't taken a public position on the lease deal, but she posted a Facebook message Monday urging residents to phone and email Council of State members to express support for the deal.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a world-class Destination Park in the heart of NC," McFarlane wrote. "Tomorrow the NC Council of State will meet, and before that vote they need to hear your support for the Park."

The lease plan is not uncontroversial.

The Dix property is valued at $86 million, and some groups say leasing it to Raleigh isn't a good deal for state taxpayers, especially those who live outside the Triangle.

"We'd like to see more options available," said Jeff Mixon, of Americans for Prosperity. "To rush it through here at this late hour of the governor's term seems to be shortchanging voters and taxpayers."

Lucy Bode of Dix Visionaries said the plan is a good investment in tourism and tax dollars in the coming decades, noting this site will be a park for the whole state.

"I encourage people to think of this as their park, whether they live in Asheville or the coast," Bode said. "This is their capital city, and this is going to be the finest park that North Carolina has ever seen."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said that an analysis by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan Fiscal and Program Evaluation Divisions values the lease deal at $22.6 million, far below the appraised value of the Dix campus.

"Even Gov. Perdue’s senior advisers readily admit her plan shortchanges North Carolina taxpayers,” Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

Her and other Republican legislative leaders have called on Perdue to delay action on the plan until Republican Gov.-elect Pat McCrory has a chance to review the deal. McCrory has said that he would like time to review it.

The Dix Visionaries lists McCrory as a member of their "advisory council." A McCrory spokesman called that statement "inaccurate," saying that the governor-elect never formally committed support to the group.

Poole said that he spoke to McCrory just as he was leaving office as mayor of Charlotte in 2008.

"He said to me, 'I wish that I had the same opportunity here in Charlotte,'" Poole recalled, saying that he later followed up with a phone call.

Poole said that McCrory was very supportive on both occasions but could not recall or document whether McCrory had agreed to have his name listed as an adviser to the group.

57 Comments

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  • dwntwnboy Dec 4, 4:06 p.m.

    "you'll have to run the low-income people surrounding the area out"- check out the home values around Dix, they have gone up and up and up. There is very little "low income" anything around there now. Heck, even the rents are getting scary high.

  • dwntwnboy Dec 4, 4:04 p.m.

    "Treat it like any other surplus property. Auction. If Raleigh has the most money fine"- then we should put up EVERY State park for auction then. Why should one part of the state get a park and others not?

  • dwntwnboy Dec 4, 3:58 p.m.

    "so the mentally ill have somewhere other than the streets to go"- they have a brand new hospital in Butner to go to. The old buildings would have cost more to refurbish than to build new.

  • dwntwnboy Dec 4, 3:57 p.m.

    "although the list of supporters is a who's who of Raleigh's rich and elite"- just like the ones who supported and got Central Park done in the mid 1850s. It wasn't the politicians, it was the people of means who wanted to make sure there was something for everyone to enjoy.

  • th009 Dec 4, 3:34 p.m.

    Just to correct some earlier comments - the property was not donated to the state, nor did Dorothea Dix found the hospital. During the 1840s, Ms. Dix lobbied a number of states to improve care for the mentally ill. In 1851, the NC legislature approved funds to purchase land and build the hospital. The property, formerly part of the Hunter Plantation, was renamed "Dix Hill" in honor of her grandfather (she would not let her own name be used). In 1959, 72 years after her death, the State Hospital at Raleigh was renamed Dorothea Dix Hospital.

    (Google "Dorothea Dix Hospital History")

  • delta29alpha Dec 4, 11:16 a.m.

    Maintain it as a mental health complex. That is the proper thing to do. Making it into a park will only benefit people living in Raleigh. Whatever is done, it should be of benefit to all of the citizens of the State of North Carolina.

  • nc creature Dec 4, 8:41 a.m.

    What about care for the cemetery on the Dix property?

  • TVs_Deceit Dec 3, 7:56 p.m.

    No scubagirl, it's not necessarily a totally foregone conclusion, although the list of supporters is a who's who of Raleigh's rich and elite. Though, according to the news today, it's just a rubber stamp away.

    There's not a thing preventing it's return to it's donated purpose except the rich and powerful of local ilk who started the process of moving the mental health facilities off the land years ago.

    They have their eyes on the surrounding land for development. Much of which they already own. Follow the money. It'll lead you to the core of the matter.

    I don't hold out much hope that justice will be done, the influential have always gotten their way on this earth. And they're looking at a big payoff again with the taxpayers footing the bill as always.

    Once again.. the real money's not in the park land itself, it's the land around it. Much of it filled with low-income people that will be moved out of the way the same as the patients were.

  • Scubagirl Dec 3, 7:31 p.m.

    I agree, the absolute BEST thing to do with this is allow the patients who have been relocated to return and fix the place up so the mentally ill have somewhere other than the streets to go. However, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that the patients were/have leaving/left.

  • retiredindependentpopo Dec 3, 7:17 p.m.

    By the way geosol, I believe it' your girl ol' Bev who is pushing for this to go through. Forget the mentally ill who need this facility.

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