Local Politics

Meeker uses annual speech to lobby for safety center

Posted February 15, 2010 9:45 a.m. EST
Updated February 15, 2010 7:06 p.m. EST

— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker on Monday repeated his call that the city move forward with construction of a $205 million public safety center downtown, saying delays will only add to construction costs.

Meeker also noted during his 2010 State of the City address that Raleigh has weathered the economic downturn better than many other cities and is well-positioned to grow as the business climate improves.

The 300,000-square-foot Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center would house the city's police and fire departments, as well as its 911 operations center and other emergency services. The 16-story building would sit at the current site of the Raleigh Police Department at the corner of McDowell and Hargett streets.

City Council members have in recent weeks debated the cost of the project, which could require a tax increase. Some have suggested ways to cut costs, and others have called for renovating the existing police headquarters instead of constructing a new building.

"We need to look at other options. We have looked at this option, and it's extremely expensive," City Councilman Bonner Gaylord said Monday. "Our public safety departments will need more space, absolutely, but there are multiple ways to accomplish that."

Gaylord said the city should consider using existing building space to save money.

Raleigh could save tens of millions of dollars by moving forward on a new building now, while interest rates are low and construction firms are cutting prices to win business, Meeker said.

"It's roughly a 20 percent discount on this building. We can buy this for 80 cents on the dollar if we go ahead and get going now," he said.

The building could be financed with a half-cent property tax increase in 2012 and another half-cent increase the following year, he said.

"It's a fairly minor adjustment for a fairly important facility," he said, adding that a second phase of the project could be delayed to save money.

Meeker also said in his speech that, despite nationwide economic turmoil and job losses, Raleigh is moving in the right direction and has even grown in the past year.

"We're actually getting through this fairly well. You are not seeing us close parks or cancel major projects," he said.