Local Politics

Councilman blasts design of Raleigh safety center

Posted February 16, 2010 2:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 16, 2010 7:33 p.m. EST

— The debate over a proposed public safety center in downtown Raleigh once again generated plenty of heat Tuesday among City Council members, but no decision was reached.

Councilman Bonner Gaylord rebuked the city staffers who developed the plans for the $205 million Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center, saying the process was rife with oversights and errors.

As planned, the 300,000-square-foot 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.

Speaking on behalf of the council members opposed to the project, Gaylord said the decision to "cram everything into one building caused costs to soar."

Gaylord and others have suggested that the city renovate the existing police headquarters building and use it rather than construct another building.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen are pushing to move forward with construction, saying project delays could cost the city if interest rates and labor and materials costs increase as the economy rebounds.

A consultant hired by the city presented a report to the City Council on Tuesday that suggested the price tag for the safety center could jump to as much as $300 million if the project is pushed back.

Gaylord said there is no way to know if holding off on the project for a year or so will lead to higher costs. He outlined seven other issues he called misconceptions in the debate, including statements that the project would create hundreds of jobs and be an important piece of downtown's future.

"The current design would be a beautiful addition to our skyline, but the fact is, outside of seeing it from afar, relatively few people will get to experience it," he said. "There would be no improved response times, and citizens would be no more safe than they currently are due to this building."

Gaylord's continued criticism of the project clearly rankled Meeker, who shed his usual calm demeanor in responding.

"You couldn't be more off base," he said to Gaylord. "This is an excellent location for this building."

The council remains deadlocked, with four members on either side of the debate, and no vote was taken Tuesday on whether to proceed with the project.

"If we're going to build this building, we need to go ahead and do it right the first time," Meeker said.