RALEIGH, N.C. — The Dorothea Dix Hospital currently sits on more than 300 state-owned acres in the middle of Raleigh -- prime property with plenty of potential. How that potential is developed could impact the city's development for decades to come.
The renowned Urban Land Institute worked to rebuild Lower Manhattan after 9-11 and made suggestions to New Orleans officials after Hurricane Katrina. Now the group of land-use professionals has come to Raleigh to help mold the future of the city.
A volunteer panel of development experts from across the county has been tasked with finding the best use for the Dorothea Dix Hospital property. They've been asked to look at how to organize and finance various options. The group could recommend what should be done or be more vague with technical advice.
The property is on the edge of downtown Raleigh and in the center of the Beltline. What becomes of it has also been at the center of debate for about five years. Several previous plans have been presented for the use of the property.
"There are probably more proposals for the land than there are acres out there," said Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake. "In the overall future of Raleigh, those 300 acres are very critical."
Malone co-chairs The Dorothea Dix study commission. The group has seen five major proposals for the land, but no consensus from interested parties.
Some advocates want the rolling hills and large trees to become greenspace when the hospital permanently closes in 2008. Others want the land developed.
State and Raleigh leaders believe the nonprofit group, which represents no special interests, can make a recommendation that best fits the future of Raleigh.
"It's a big, big decision. It has a lot more impact on us than it does on the state," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker. The Dean of North Carolina State University's College of Design, Marvin Malecha, said the property could become to Raleigh what Central Park means to New York City.
"There's an opportunity for this to actually give strong identity to Raleigh around a greenspace as opposed to around a build space," Malecha said.
Malecha said he also believes what happens to the prime real estate speaks to future generations about what was valuable to this generation.
"They'll look at us as caretakers or careless with resources presented to us," he said.
The panel members have expertise in specialties such as open space development, land use public policy and historic preservation. After a reception Wednesday night, the panel will tour the campus Thursday and meet with all interested parties.
The institute will make a recommendation to the Dix commission on Friday. The goal is for the General Assembly to approve a plan during the next legislative session.