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Race to a Decision on Dix: Easley Jumps to Early Lead

The governor's budget includes money to start on a "green" state office for mental health employees on part of the land the city is hoping to buy.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — There’s been plenty of debate, but no official decision on what to do with a prize piece of Raleigh real estate, the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus. The governor has made a move that speed up the process, however.

The 2008 budget that Gov. Mike Easley submitted last week includes $173 million in bond money to develop 25 of the 306 acres of the state property just outside downtown Raleigh. The city is hoping the state will sell it the land.

The 150-year-old state hospital is set to close late this year or in early 2008. What happens to that land will impact the capital city for generations, which led city officials to bring in planning advisers from the nationally known Urban Land Institute.

Easley wants to build a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient office complex for more than 3,400 Department of Health and Human Services employees.

“We need that. That is long overdue. We need that complex, and it will be the greenest building in the state,” North Carolina’s Democratic governor told WRAL.

The complex would be built on the edge of the Dix campus, along Lake Wheeler Road. DHHS employees who already work at Dix and thousands from downtown offices would fill the facility.

Politicians and planners have spent months talking about a putting a park, a mixed-used development or both on the site. A final decision hasn’t been made, which is why the budget item stunned some leaders.

“My reaction was a little bit surprised that it would be in this year's budget. It would have been great if everyone could have been on the same page,” Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake County, said. Malone co-chairs the committee studying the future of Dix.

The group hasn't yet found consensus, so, the senator and other lawmakers were surprised to learn the governor earmarked millions for the office complex.

“It is getting the cart before the horse in the governor's budget. What we need to do is determine what we're going to do with the Dix property first,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake County.

The governor says the jury is still out over what to do with Dix. He hopes the historic site can be preserved for public use.

Wake County leaders see the governor’s budget as an executive message.

“I know ultimately a decision has to be made on the Dix property. This may force us to move forward,” Malone told WRAL.

Easley’s chief economic adviser says that putting a new state building on the Dix campus makes sense.

“I believe this is the state's property first and foremost, and there's a lot of discussion that needs to take place on this,” said Dan Gerlach.

It now appears the governor is leading that discussion. The future of the Dix property will now become part of legislators’ budget negotiations.


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