Raleigh, N.C. — In one of her final acts in office, outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue formally signed an agreement Friday to lease the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus to the City of Raleigh, which plans to turn it into a "destination park."
The Raleigh City Council and the Council of State, a panel of 10 statewide elected officials, approved the agreement earlier this month, and Friday afternoon’s signing finalized the deal on the 325-acre site that is just south of downtown.
"Discussion and deliberation about the Dix property has taken place for years," Perdue said in a statement. "The plan is the most appropriate way of preserving this open space as a park, while at the same time providing revenue to the state."
The Dix campus has been owned by the state for more than 150 years. It was once home to a mental hospital, but the campus is now mainly occupied by Department of Health and Human Services offices.
Raleigh will pay the state $500,000 a year for up to 99 years. As a condition of the lease, the city will lease back to the state the office space it currently occupies until a plan to move those offices elsewhere can be worked out.
The price for the lease would rise by 1.5 percent every year, but the city would get a discount for any property that the state is still using.
"I am very happy the City of Raleigh and the state can partner in this way to provide such a great opportunity for our citizens," Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. "The Dix property is a wonderful addition to our city and state's quality of life amenities."
Proponents have said the property will become Raleigh's version of Central Park and increase tourism and economic development. But opponents think Raleigh is getting a sweetheart deal well below market value.
"There's always going to criticism and people will always wonder if you've done the best," McFarlane said. "We've worked hard on this for a very long time. I think for the city and state, that this is the best deal for both of us."
The mayor said residents will be invited to give their input in the planning process, which she promised would be transparent to "make sure taxpayers get the best value for their dollar."
McFarlane also said she's discussed the project with Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, who wants to offer his ideas.
"When you look at great parks in other cities – whether it's St. Louis or New York – those are assets for the whole state," McFarlane said.
Gregory Poole Jr., chairman of Dix Visionaries, said his group has already raised for than $1 million to help transform the park and plans to collect more.
He said he envisions a park that will be on par with other great parks and natural attractions in the state and across the country.
"We'll measure up now," Poole said. "We've got the opportunity."