Local Politics

Raleigh safety center back on table

Posted May 18, 2010 4:35 p.m. EDT
Updated May 18, 2010 5:58 p.m. EDT

— After months of bitter debate, the City Council on Tuesday revived plans for a controversial downtown tower to house Raleigh's public safety operations.

Councilman John Odom switched his vote to break a 4-4 stalemate on plans for the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center. The move came after officials agreed to a compromise brokered by Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin to put 911 operations in the basement of the building or move them to a separate location.

The original plans for the 16-story, 300,000-square-foot building called for housing the 911 center on the top floors. Moving the operation into a basement bunker or another location would likely shrink the size of the building, officials said.

Odom asked that the designer conduct a threat assessment to determine the best location for the 911 center and whether a downtown tower could become a target for terrorists or criminals.

The tower, to be built at the corner of McDowell and Hargett streets, would house the city's fire and police departments and other emergency services. The Raleigh Police Department vacated its building on the site in March.

The City Council deadlocked in March on a plan to finance the center. Some council members expressed concern about raising taxes to pay it off, and others said the building included unnecessary amenities and needed to be redesigned to cut costs.

Mayor Charles Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen have pushed to begin construction on the safety center, saying Raleigh could save millions by locking in lower labor and material prices before the economy picks up steam.

A task force that included Meeker and three council members hasn't been able to agree in recent weeks on whether an outside consultant was needed to re-evaluate plans for the safety center. With Tuesday's vote, a consultant would no longer be needed.

Council members Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord and Russ Stephenson voted against the new safety center plans. Stephenson said a basement bunker for the 911 center could add to the building's $205 million price tag.

Council members are expected to get a new design plan at their first meeting in June.