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Economy could delay Raleigh's new public-safety center

Raleigh's City Council could delay building a new downtown headquarters for police, fire and emergency communications by a year or two if the economic downturn continues, Mayor Charles Meeker said.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Raleigh city leaders say they could delay the construction of a new facility to house police, fire and emergency communications if the economic downturn continues.

The 16-story, 305,000-square-foot Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center would be built over police headquarters on South McDowell Street. In February, city officials estimated the construction would cost about $226 million – including $42 million in contingency funds for the unexpected, such as rising materials costs – and be completed by 2012.

Police headquarters would be moved temporarily into the old Warehouse Restaurant on West Cabarrus Street, so the building could be demolished by November 2009. The proposed budget includes $9 million for rental fees.

The City Council has approved the money for the move, but the state of the economy will determine if councilors chose to move ahead with the complex now, Mayor Charles Meeker said.

“If the economy declines substantially, the council will be faced with putting it on hold for a year or two until things turn around and revenues come back,” Meeker said.

Meeker said he did not think the city would have trouble getting financing for the project but that undertaking that debt might be imprudent while the credit market crunch persists.

"It hasn't impacted us that much yet, but it could in the next few months. We just have to keep a very careful eye on it," the mayor said.

Meeker said that city secured financing for downtown projects under way, including the parking deck on South McDowell, before credit markets closed up.

Despite financial concerns, Meeker said, replacing the old police building is past due.

“The building is outdated as a police headquarters. The evidence storage isn’t state-of-the-art, by any means. Officers are sharing offices, and really, it’s something that should have been replaced 10 or 15 years ago,” Meeker said.

The building will be designed to meet a "gold standard" of environmental efficiency, including a rooftop system to collect rainwater, a layout that uses sunlight to aid interior lighting and sensors to control lights, heating and air conditioning.

The council voted several years ago to name the proposed public-safety center for Lightner, Raleigh's only black mayor. He headed the city from 1973 to 1975 and served on the City Council for six years before becoming mayor.

The City Council will discuss financing the project at a meeting in December.

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Ken Smith, Reporter
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