Raleigh, N.C. — In a move that could push state lawmakers to make up their minds, the City of Raleigh plans to publicly announce an offer to purchase the Dorothea Dix campus from the state at a news conference Thursday morning.
The vision is a 300-acre urban park. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker calls it a destination park that would attract visitors who would bring tourism dollars to the area.
Meeker said historic buildings which are restored would only be used for purposes which are compatible with that of a destination park. The proposal would allow state Health and Human Services offices to remain on the site for three to five years rent free, but then move off site. No new office buildings would be constructed.
It would be a public-private partnership. About $10.5 million could come from the city, Meeker said. The rest would come from private donors.
Three groups that are pushing the park plan are expected to be at the news conference. The Friends of Dorothea Dix Park, Dix Visionaries and DIX 306 are expected to announce an amount from private donors. Greer Beaty, a spokesperson for The Friends of Dorothea Dix Park, says the contribution is "significant."
State lawmakers may not decide to sell.
"I don't want to be inflexible," said State House Speaker Joe Hackney, a democrat who represents Orange and Chatham counties. "We'll listen to what Raleigh has to say, but I don't think it's a good idea for the state to give up ownership of the land."
Hackney said he supports the idea of a park, but believes some of the land should be set aside for its original purpose - to provide mental health services.
State lawmakers will have to decide what they want to do with the property when the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital closes next year. That conversation is currently in committee. No action may come this legislative session.
"I think we're all frustrated at the pace this is taking. But this is something that requires patience, and persistence is rewarded," Meeker said.
The announcement came as a surprise to at least one city council member. Philip Isley said he learned about the news conference from reporters on Wednesday. He later received an email from the mayor. Isley supports the city's effort to acquire the land, but said it might be premature to commit city dollars to the offer.
The news conference is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Raleigh City Hall.