Senate OKs tearing up Dix park lease

Posted March 26, 2013

— The state Senate on Tuesday approved voiding Raleigh's lease of the former Dorothea Dix site, calling on the city to pay more for a smaller piece of the 325-acre parcel to create an urban park.

An amended version of Senate Bill 334 passed on a 29-21 vote. The measure now goes to the House.

Under the terms of a 99-year lease signed in December by Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and former Gov. Beverly Perdue, the city would pay $500,000 a year – plus annual escalators – for the Dix site, allowing officials to convert it into a "destination park."

Republican lawmakers criticized the deal, which they said didn't provide the state with a fair return. They also said it would end up costing taxpayers money because state Department of Health and Human Services offices at the site would have to be moved.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, called the lease a "double-whammy for North Carolina taxpayers," saying they were subsidizing a Raleigh park while also paying for new DHHS office space.

The legislation, along with a companion bill in the House, calls for the lease to be renegotiated at a fair-market price, with the proceeds designated for mental health programs. Also, DHHS would be allowed to maintain its offices on part of the site.

Sens. Josh Stein and Dan Blue, both Wake County Democrats, argued passionately against the bill, saying breaking Raleigh's lease would reflect badly on the state and noting that a major Raleigh park would create thousands of jobs and benefit the entire state.

"It's not just another park," Blue said. "This is something special, my friends, and I'm not just talking from a sentimental standpoint."

Senate debates revoking Dix park lease Senate debates revoking Dix park lease

Local business leaders begged Wake County lawmakers Monday to uphold the lease, saying such contracts are sacrosanct in the business community. Tearing up the deal for renegotiation would cause businesses everywhere to fear the state would take similar action in the future, they said.

"If we start this, then businesspeople across the state are going to doubt our sincerity when we enter into any deal," Blue said.

Stein said the ramifications would extend beyond North Carolina's borders, suggesting companies looking to expand would be leery of working with the state.

Blue read a litany of other deals in which the state leased or sold property to local entities across North Carolina for $1, including some in the districts represented by Pate and bill co-sponsor Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.

"Should the state go back and collect fair-market value for the other leases it has entered into in the last 10 years?" Blue asked.

Hise responded that none of the other deals involved moving state employees, and he said the Dix lease violates state law by not having a plan in place for dealing with the DHHS offices.

Bill sponsors also argued that the Dix property was given to the state in the mid-1800s to benefit mentally ill people, although they acknowledged they have no plans to reopen Dorothea Dix Hospital there.

"To say that this is about mental health is a farce. It isn’t about mental health," Stein said. "This is about a lease you didn’t like because it was signed by a governor you didn’t like with a city you don’t like."

Republican House and Senate budget-writers cut state spending on the state Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disability and Substance Abuse by $73 million over the past two years.

Stein also reminded senators that the General Assembly passed up more than $1 billion in federal money for mental health programs by voting recently against expanding the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

"Your short-sightedness is astounding," he told his Senate colleagues. "This is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you all are throwing away."

Before the bill passed, Pate was able to amend it to ensure a three-judge panel would hear any legal challenges to the voided lease. One of the judges would be from Wake County and the other two would be from eastern and western North Carolina.

Blue questioned the effort, saying such property condemnation cases are entitled to a jury trial, and having three judges overseeing that process would be cumbersome.

"It really is bordering on the nonsensical for us to be building in this special proceeding that doesn’t exist anywhere else for one case, for 325 acres of land," he said.

Raleigh officials have already met behind closed doors to discuss their legal options if the state backs out of the lease.


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  • smegma Apr 1, 2013

    bet everything the decision has already been made. you may get a swingset of a playground "park", but you can bet the farm there will be a high-rise luxury condo on that hill

  • Crumps Br0ther Mar 27, 2013

    that debt would have been gone in a few years even if we had done nothing.....!

    Grand Union

    Do nothing, thats exactly right, the only thing you want to do is stand in the way. What is it you libes are always telling us? "Things change deal with it or get left behind." Thats works both ways son

  • Crumps Br0ther Mar 27, 2013

    Contracts mean nothing to republicans when they think they can get money into the hands of their wealthy cronies.

    Deep Thought

    Thsi was all a shadey democrat deal before the power changed hands. But those are the facts so no wonder you want to ignore them and blame people for something they didnt do. Typical liberal.

  • Crumps Br0ther Mar 27, 2013

    Comparable?....Pullen is 66 acres and is already too small, DIX is 325 acres.
    Grand Union

    Well like everyone has had to do lately, you will have to make due with less. Tought times everyone has to sacrifice. But you mostly just like to complain more than anything

  • TVs_Deceit Mar 27, 2013

    What proves that all along it's really been about money, not nature, is that was already hundreds of acres of green space when the hospital was operating.

    A state-of-the-art mental health care facility could be built there, and space for consolidation of DHHS, and there still would be hundreds of acres of green space.

    But there wouldn't be green space that provided an "economic engine of development opportunity" that is so potentially profitable to the ones most heavily pushing it.

    Green space is just the cover story, the "feel good" story that disguises the true intent of gaining immense profits.

    No one wants to build highrises that overlook a mental treatment center and DHHS offices, so they had to go to make the profiteering work.

    Maybe it's just me. I'm a Christian, and Jesus said His Father's Will was for us to care for the helpless, not covet their land and kick them off of it for an economic engine.

  • TVs_Deceit Mar 27, 2013

    t wats1000, yet it was a Democratic legislature under a Democratic Governor that voted to close the Hospital at Dix and move it to Butner.

    A Democratic Governor that pushed the deal through at the last minute, and a Democratic Mayor that signed the lease.

    And a Democratic developer and a Democratic media owner that are leading the charge to control how the park is built.

    Some Republican business insiders went along with the program too. But that doesn't change the fact that this has been a Democratic led theft of land from the beginning.

    I wonder which party has the most contributors that have already worked out development deals [mentioned by Roy Cooper] that are contingent on the park agreement that a Democratic Governor rushed through on her way out the door.

    Which party's members bankrolled the idea doesn't matter. What does is that they were greedy, selfish and heartless enough to steal the land from it's helpless rightful occupants. Those are character traits, not political

  • superman Mar 27, 2013

    A park is a park is a park. What makes this different? Dont think people are going to drive miles to see the same green grass and trees they can see at a park near their house. Pullen Park is within walking distance. Maybe some of the homeless can be persuaded to go there instead.

  • Krimson Mar 27, 2013

    TVs_Deceit: Google "Dix Legacy Park" and you'll find a list of local leaders and businesses that support the Park... You'll also find that quite a few of them are Republicans. No need for deep thought on that one, just an IQ above room temperature...

  • Krimson Mar 27, 2013

    "build a new state of the art mental health inpatient facility"

    The State of NC just spend $120 millions in 2008 to build a new hospital in Butner for the patients at Dix...

    Why in the hey would the GOP propose building a new hospital when we just built one 5 years ago???

    Anyone else think the whole "pro-park = anti-mental health" angle is a steaming pile of horse hockey???

    Really, Berger... If you're going to make Ann Goodnight mad and throw away any chance of her giving you another $300k fundraiser, you should try and come up with a better attack on the pro-park people...

  • Grand Union Mar 27, 2013

    "Raleigh will just have to figure out how to make do with Pullen Park, which is comparable to the Dix park fantasy and less than 1.4 miles from the Dix Property."

    Comparable?....Pullen is 66 acres and is already too small, DIX is 325 acres.