Local Politics

Raleigh officials continue to bicker over safety center

Posted April 13, 2010
Updated May 18, 2010

— The sharp split on the City Council that killed plans for a $205 million downtown tower to house all of Raleigh's public safety operations resurfaced Tuesday.

Mayor Charles Meeker and council members Mary-Ann Baldwin, Bonner Gaylord and Russ Stephenson met for the first time as a task force charged with outlining issues in the debate over the proposed Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center for an independent consultant. The consultant, who has yet to be hired by the City Council, would then look at the best possible site, design and cost for the facility.

Construction site, construction generic Window on cheaper construction costs closing

The original plan for the safety center called for housing the city's fire and police departments, 911 operations center and other emergency services in a 16-story, 300,000-square-foot building at the corner of McDowell and Hargett streets. The Raleigh Police Department recently vacated its building on the site.

The City Council couldn't agree last month on a plan to finance the center. Some council members expressed concern about raising taxes to pay it off, and others said the building included unnecessary amenities and was too costly.

City Manager Russell Allen recently proposed a financing strategy that would allow Raleigh to build the safety center without raising taxes, prompting the council to take a second look at the idea.

The contentious atmosphere that marked the previous debate spilled over into the task force, however, as members bickered over how to pay for a consultant and whose recommendation to accept on hiring the consultant.

Meeker and Allen have pushed to proceed with construction, noting the window will soon close on low interest rates and construction costs as the economy picks up steam.

"What we have today is an enormous amount of savings," said Marty Moser, director of pre-construction services for Raleigh-based Barnhill Contracting.

Wake County saved about 20 percent on the cost of its new downtown Justice Center because of stiff competition among contractors bidding on the project, Moser said. He said the savings won't last forever, though.

"The risks increase the longer you wait," he said.

Chuck Wilson, president of Durham-based C.T. Wilson Construction, estimated that the safety center could be built for about $170 million now as contractors scramble for projects. If Raleigh waits a year to build, he said, the city could face a $250 million price tag as material costs rise and stronger companies restore their profit margins.

"Things aren't going to get any cheaper than they are now, and I certainly see them going up rather dramatically in the next 12 to 18 months," Wilson said.

Stephenson said a proper review of the safety center's cost, design and location overrides the risk of waiting and paying more.

"I absolutely feel the pressure of time, but I even more feel the pressure of getting the facts before me so we can make the right decision based on the facts," he said.

The task force is scheduled to meet again in two weeks.


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  • irishale Apr 13, 2010

    Let me get this straight, so that I understand:

    1) All these services are housed somewhere right now.

    2) The economy is bad, tax revenues are down.

    3) They're not sure how to pay for it... meaning that they don't have the money for it in cash.

    So... in the down economy, with unemployment very high, more and more people are doing without.

    I think they should too. Make do with what you have. Get over it. It's not fair to make people pay for it in the future, and it's certainly a smack in the face to know that while you're getting evicted from your home because you can't find a job, at least the public safety offices are nice, shiny, and new.

  • HonestAb Apr 13, 2010

    Who is the Mayor fooling - price going up? Just like my house price - flying through the ceiling! The Mayor is selling the News and Observer's line to up the value of their downtown property across the street!

    R. Allen is just justifying his high priced salary - right "no tax increase"........ Who does Allen think we are? Russell we're not idiots, you spend money we pay. When you can get the city of Charlotte to pay the bonds off call us back.

    What an a bunch of lies!

  • imtiredofit Apr 13, 2010

    Anyone that believes that this center can be built without raising taxes must also believe in the Easter bunny. Meeker and Allen are trying to con the public with their "no new taxes" baloney.

  • freedomfromAmeriKa Apr 13, 2010

    WE do not need this oversized edifice to the legacy of our Mayor. Simply!

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 13, 2010

    Meeker and Allen aren't going to stop until they build this monument to themselves.

    Neither of them has met a tax or fee that they didn't like.

  • RarRarRar Apr 13, 2010

    I believe this whole thing should be scrapped and each issue should be dealt with separately. First, there is really no reason for every organization to be in the same building. If Emergency Management, Raleigh Fire, County fire, EMS, 911 center and all are working find in their own offices now, why do they need to be put together? They are all separate entities. There will be no change in service rendered to the public.

    Second, why is the 911 center, essentially the most important part of the system put on top of a very large structure. The requirements for the center include redundant utilities and added reinforcement to ensure its structural strength. You know what happens when you increase the weight and/or complexity of the top floor of a building? Everything below it has to be built bigger and stronger to support the larger load.

  • rand321 Apr 13, 2010

    i do not think it has anything to do with charotte envy (thank god we are not like charlotte), nor is it race.Its public saftey and economics. If its a better solution than other alternatives adn a good deal, Meeker should be able to prove it. If there are better alternatives, they should be considered.

    The fact that the economy is weak and we either have to increase taxes to pay for this or other projects down the road, is a BIG DEAL and should be carefully considered given ALL the needs of teh city.

  • madisonwasright Apr 13, 2010

    We may well need the facility, but why is the City of Raleigh proposing a structure that costs TWICE per square foot what Wake County is spending for a similar facility? Also, what does - "building without a tax increase" TRULY mean? Does this = debt that must be repaid from funds that could have been used for other purposes? Debt us not pain free. Where is the stewardship?

  • dono422 Apr 13, 2010

    Police, Fire and EMS have smaller stations throughout the city. This building would house the downtown station and administrative offices so your one bomb theory would only minimally effect the cities response in a disaster. There is a duplicate 911 center as well in another part of the city in case of a major incident involving the shutdown of the primary 911 center. Just so you know.

  • 5-113 FA Retired Apr 13, 2010

    Stop the childish "bickering" and face the fact that Raleigh will never measure (or grow) up to be of Charlotte quality. Purging the criminal element from ALL political parties needs to be the first step. That will take a couragous effort on behalf of hard working, tax paying citizens. In other words, ain't gonna happen!