NC, Raleigh councils OK lease to create Dix park

Dorothea Dix campus (foreground) from the air.
December 4, 2012 8:08:56 PM PST
The City of Raleigh will lease the Dorothea Dix Hospital campus from the State of North Carolina for 75 years under a lease agreement approved by the City Council Tuesday afternoon on a 7-1 vote.

The city plans to convert land on the 325-acre site into an urban park following development of a master planning process that will include citizen participation.

"We've worked a long time for this and they really do understand what a great thing it will really be for the city and the state," Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.

Earlier in the day, members of North Carolina's Council of State approved the lease. The two Republicans on the 10-member Council of State - Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler - voted no, while State Auditor Beth Wood abstained.

"After years of thoughtful discussion and deliberation, it's time to continue moving forward on transferring the Dix property to the City of Raleigh," said Gov. Bev Perdue in a statement sent to the media after the vote. "The plan is the most appropriate way of preserving this open space as a park, while at the same time providing revenue to the state."

The plan leases the sprawling hospital grounds to Raleigh for $68 million over 75 years. Perdue administration officials announced the terms Friday, ending months of negotiations to create a destination park near downtown.

Under terms of the agreement, Raleigh would pay $500,000 a year to lease the property, plus a 1.5 percent annual increase compounded over the length of the agreement. City leaders would then have the option to renew the 75 year lease for another 24 years.

Republicans, including Senate President Phil Berger, have called the plan a "raw deal for N.C. taxpayers."

Republican Governor-elect Pat McCrory had asked the Democratic-controlled Council of State to delay the decision until his administration takes power in January.

Berger said research by the General Assembly's nonpartisan Fiscal and Program Evaluation Divisions showed the state will not get anything close to the real value of the land under the terms of the Perdue plan.

"It is a sad day for our state when leaders entrusted to protect the best interests of all North Carolinians to give a valuable state asset to a chosen few for little in return," said Berger in a statement after the vote.

Dallas Woodhouse, Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina State Director, noted that the plan passed in the Council of State by 6-2 with one abstention.

"We thank Commissioner Berry, Commissioner Troxler, and Auditor Wood for standing up for state taxpayers," he said.

Woodhouse said he would go to the Legislature to ask it to "exercise oversight of this 'dirty Dix' land deal."

"The Senate will begin evaluating legal options to terminate this ill-conceived lease and reclaim this land on behalf of its real owners: the people of North Carolina," said Berger.

Supporter of the plan say it's a huge win for the Raleigh area. A group of the plan's boosters called a news conference Monday to announce a fundraising effort for the project.

The group - calling itself the "Dix Visionaries" - includes businesspeople and community leaders, and said it's confident it can gather $3 million in private donations.

"Dix Park will be a true public-private partnership," said Gregory Poole Jr., Chairman of the Dix Visionaries. "We are committed to raising funds to master plan Dix Park because a Destination Park will become an economic engine. Dix Park will attract a creative class of business leaders and positively impact the quality of life."

Perdue said the deal's approval Tuesday, one month and one day before leaving office, had nothing to do with building her legacy: "It has to do with the future of this state."

The City of Raleigh and the State of North Carolina will finalize lease details and sign an actual lease by no later than Dec. 30.

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