RALEIGH, N.C. — After years of debating whether the Dorothea Dix campus south of downtown Raleigh should be converted into a Central Park-type destination, rumors are swirling that North Carolina State University could play a role in the site's future.
Lawmakers said Tuesday that they understand that Gov. Beverly Perdue is considering giving the 306-acre property to the university.
"I can't give anything to anybody. Even a governor can't do that," Perdue said.
In 1984-85, former Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Martin "reallocated" about 800 acres of Dix property to N.C. State to create Centennial Campus, which has since become a national model for university partnerships with businesses.
At the time, the moves angered Raleigh leaders and others, who called the land transfers illegal and unethical.
N.C. State officials declined to comment on conversations about the Dix campus, but Perdue doesn't deny that she has spoken with the university about the remaining property.
"Obviously, I'd like an educational and some kind of academic investment there around mental health. I think that was the core to the original gift," she said.
The land was deeded to the state in the mid-1800s so the Dorthea Dix Hospital could open as the state's first mental hospital.
Lawmakers also expressed concern Tuesday that Perdue is rushing plans to move Department of Health and Human Services offices from the Dix campus.
Since February, the department has been weighing bids to consolidate its operations at a new location in the Raleigh area. About 1,700 employees still work at the Dix campus.
The Council of State voted last year to give its formal approval to DHHS to close Dix Hospital after moving patients to other facilities.
State officials say the move would save the state money and make the department more efficient, but some Republican leaders said the process is being rushed so Perdue can approve it before a new governor takes office in January.
"I think that it is no way to run a government just so an outgoing governor can take an action and have a legacy," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.
Perdue has said the move is a necessary step toward turning the Dix land into a park, and she reiterated Tuesday that she wants part of the site as a park. She said she has talked to many interested parties over the past two years, but no deal has been cut so far.
"There's nobody in 2012 who would dare think to do something behind a closed door," she said. "That's not me, and that's not North Carolina. So, this will be a public discussion that I look forward to taking part in."
If the bidding process for the new DHHS campus stays on schedule, the property could be available for redevelopment by 2014.