Raleigh, N.C. — A new law enforcement building in downtown Raleigh will cost local taxpayers about the same as the new convention center nearby, according to a report to be presented Tuesday to the City Council.
The 17-story Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, to be built at the corner of Hargett and McDowell streets next to City Hall, is expected to cost $226 million. The downtown convention center, which is scheduled to open this fall, cost $221 million.
"I honestly don't know how we're going to pay for that," Councilman Philip Isley said. "We clearly need new space. We clearly need a new building. But I'm not entirely sure it needs to be as large as what they're talking about now."
Unlike the convention center, hotel and restaurant taxes would not pay for construction. Also, Wake County wouldn't be splitting the cost of the law enforcement building with Raleigh, as it did with the convention center.
County officials are considering their own major project – a proposed $214 million justice center downtown – to replace the overcrowded county courthouse and provide more office space for county departments.
The 305,000-square-foot safety center will consolidate space for the police department, Raleigh Fire Department and Wake County Emergency Operations Center and 911 dispatch.
The City Council is expected to begin discussing how to finance the project this spring, with construction possibly starting by late 2009.
"It's an expensive project, but also, given the size of Raleigh and the importance of public safety, it's one of those projects we have to look it," Mayor Charles Meeker said.
The cost estimate includes a $42 million contingency fund to avoid the budget changes that plagued the convention center project, where rising materials costs and other factors led to several budget increases.
Because the existing Raleigh Police Department building will be razed to make room for the new building, the city also expects to spend about $9 million to rent space for department administrators for the three-year construction period.
City Manager Russell Allen said it's unclear where the police department would be housed while the new building is under construction.
The building will be designed to meet a "gold standard" of environmental efficiency, including a rooftop system to collect rainwater, a layout that uses sunlight to aid interior lighting and sensors to control lights, heating and air conditioning.
"The old police department, frankly, is obsolete," Meeker said. "For years, we've needed to have the police and fire departments headquartered together."
The council voted several years ago to name the proposed law enforcement center for Lightner, Raleigh's only black mayor. He headed the city from 1973 to 1975, and he also served on the City Council for six years before becoming mayor.