Raleigh, N.C. — A group of private supporters on Thursday pledged $7 million to help Raleigh transform the Dorothea Dix Hospital property into a massive park near downtown.
The state plans to close the mental health hospital by the end of the year and is considering options for the 306-acre site.
Raleigh officials have offered to buy the property from the state for $10.5 million in hopes of creating a Central Park-type attraction just south of downtown. Although the land likely could fetch a much higher price if it were developed as retail, office or residential space, Mayor Charles Meeker said the city's offer is a fair price for parkland.
A private group called Dix Visionaries announced Thursday that it would back the city's money with another $7 million to pay for initial planning and development of the site.
"The Dix Visionaries plan will propel this state that we live into the forefront of our nation," said Dix Visionaries leader Gregory Poole Jr. "We cannot continue to attract the great thinkers -- the great minds of this world -- to our city if we don't pay equal attention to our quality of life and the quality of life that we want to preserve for those in the future."
Poole, a Caterpillar equipment dealer in Raleigh, said Dix Visionaries includes developers, business executives and former North Carolina governors. The group is committed to continued fundraising beyond the $7 million pledge to help develop the park, he said.
Dix Visionaries joins with two advocacy groups, Dix 306 and Friends of Dorothea Dix Park, in backing the city's plan for a park on the site.
"What could happen in these 306 acres could truly be dynamic," said Bill Padgett of Dix 306.
Any sale of the property must be approved by state lawmakers.
"With the stroke of their pen, the General Assembly can be remembered as having the forethought, the vision, to protect a resource that we will never, ever have again," said Jay Spain of the Friends of Dorothea Dix Park.
Meeker said Thursday that he hopes the public-private partnership will spark action by the General Assembly.
"We are hoping that the General Assembly will act this session to get something done," he said. "The three advocacy groups and the city, coming together, we hope it will provide support to get people moving. The debate could go on another year. Really, I think people understand the problem, and now's the time to make the right decision."
House Speaker Joe Hackney said he supports development of a park on part of the Dix property, but wants to retain some of it for mental-health care. He also said he opposes an outright sale of the state-owned land.
Sen. Vernon Malone, a member of the legislative committee charged with planning for the future of the Dix site, called Raleigh's offer for the land premature. The panel hasn't worked out the details of a final plan for the land, but should have recommendations ready in a few weeks, he said.
The committee received five proposals for the land, ranging from a park to full-scale, mixed-use development.
"It's unlikely the 300 acres will all be a park and even less likely it will be sold for $10.5 million," said Malone, D-Wake. "The city's action is not going to stampede the General Assembly into making a decision."
The city sent a letter to Gov. Mike Easley Thursday in an effort to gain his support of a sale and the development of a park, Meeker said.