Raleigh, N.C. — Senators took a pass Tuesday on a bill that would scuttle a deal brokered by Gov. Pat McCrory to sell the Dorothea Dix property to Raleigh for $52 million.
Senate Bill 705 was scheduled for hearing during the Senate Health Committee, but after 50 minutes of sifting through a raft of other bills, Chairman Louis Pate, R-Wayne, told the committee that the Dix bill would come up next week.
The bill would kill a tentative agreement signed by McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and force the state to open bids for the property, setting $52 million as the minimum that someone would have to pay. While city officials plan the turn the 306-acre property on the edge of Raleigh's downtown into a "destination park," other plans have been floated over the years to build shops, offices and houses.
It is not unusual for bills to fall off of committee calendars during busy periods of lawmaking. But the Dix controversy reaches back to former Gov. Bev Perdue's administration and is a subject of friction between McCrory and the Senate, so it's unlikely anything involving the measure is done without some thought.
"We've had some good conversations with the City of Raleigh," Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said when asked about the delay.
Hise, along with Pate, is one of the bill's primary sponsors.
Neither Hise nor Pate would say what they thought the ultimate outcome for the bill would be. While senators have been skeptical of the deal, saying the purchase price may be too low, House members have generally backed the transaction. The Council of State, a group of 10 officials elected statewide, including the governor, is due to give the sale its blessing next month.
"Even if we agree to the sale price, and that may be where we're heading, there are other parts of the bill that we need to do," Hise said.
For example, the measure would specify that any proceeds of the sale would go toward mental health. And, Hise said, the state still has to figure out where it would put the Department of Health and Human Services, which is currently based on the property.
Pressed as to whether the bill could really go forward without the provision forcing a re-bid, Hise said, "That would always be an option."
Asked about Hise's remarks, Pate acknowledge that it was an option being considered.
"We'll just have to see what the climate is," he said, while making clear that he did not believe the state was getting enough money for the property. He also referenced a long-running issue over century-old deeds that purport to show that original land grants were made under the condition the property be used to help the mentally ill.