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Four Things That Need To Happen Before Raleigh Can Turn Dix Campus Into Park

Dorothea Dix campus
Ted Buckner
Flickr/Creative Commons
Dorothea Dix campus
Governor Pat McCrory, Mayor Nancy McFarlane
Credit Jessica Jones
Governor Pat McCrory and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

Governor Pat McCrory’s administration and Raleigh leaders have reached an agreement for the city to buy the old Dorothea Dix campus in order to create a park. Advocates have lobbied for years to create a grand city park on the 307-acre property, but those efforts were frustrated until now.

Governor McCrory and Raleigh’s mayor, Nancy McFarlane, held a joint news conference Monday at the executive mansion. They spoke before an audience of park advocates, state lawmakers and members of the business community who’ve long supported the idea to re-purpose the Dorothea Dix campus.  

"This agreement allows the creation of a destination park in our state capitol, protects our state taxpayers, and continues to honor the legacy of Dorothea Dix. How’s that for good news," said McCrory.

The stretch of property, marked by rolling green hills and huge hardwood trees, sits in the heart of downtown Raleigh. For years, it housed a mental hospital named after a nineteenth-century activist who created the first generation of what were then referred to as mental asylums. The state owns the property, but will sell it to the city of Raleigh for $52 million. Governor McCrory says he’s pleased with the deal.

"As governor I just make this commitment, that Aldona Wos and I, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, will work with the General Assembly, to ensure that we use these proceeds to provide mental health services, something that I think would honor and continue to honor the legacy of Dorothea Dix and the countless people who’ve served this facility and by the way will continue to serve this facility for the next several years," said McCrory.

McCrory and Raleigh mayor Nancy McFarlane officially signed an agreement at the news conference. This came after the Raleigh City Council approved the terms of the sale in a special meeting held early Monday morning.

North Carolina’s previous governor, Beverly Perdue, also signed a deal with McFarlane back in 2012. But General Assembly lawmakers felt the sale price was too low, which forced the state and the city back into negotiations. Mayor McFarlane says land deals of this magnitude take time, patience, and a willingness to work through the details.

"Securing these 300-plus acres for the generations to come demonstrates to the rest of the world that North Carolina has vision, and the wherewithal to see that that vision comes to a reality. Making wise decisions about our land use will become increasingly critical," said McFarlane.

The fine print

State and city administrations must put together a contract, and that must be approved by the Council of State, a group of 10 elected officials who meet with the governor every month.

But there’s more that has to happen before this agreement is legally binding:

  1. State and city administrations must put together a contract.
  2. The contract must be approved by the Council of State, a group of 10 elected officials who meet with the governor every month.
  3. The city of Raleigh has to come up with $52 million to buy the property.
  4. The state must move the Department of Health and Human Services, which is currently housed on the campus.

Governor McCrory says he’s spoken with the presumptive state Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and he doesn’t anticipate legislative opposition to the deal. Other lawmakers who attended the ceremony don’t either.   
"The last one was a midnight deal that didn’t even follow the executive budget act," said Paul Stam, a Republican member of the state House of Representatives. He says this arrangement is better for all parties concerned. It's much " more transparent, and a better deal for the state. And by that it means it’s a better deal for mentally ill people, because the money going to the state is going to be used for mental health," said Stam.

McCrory says state officials will begin work on a long-term transition plan.

Joy for many

'It's going to be our great park, it's going to be our Central Park.'

Meanwhile, advocates who have fought to turn the Dix property into a park say they’re thrilled about today’s announcement. Gregory Poole Junior heads the Dix Visionaries, an advocacy group that fought for years for the park: 

"It’s exciting, we think, to have this opportunity, not just for Raleigh, but now it’s going to be for our entire state, it’s going to be our great park, it’s going to be our Central Park," said Poole.

Poole says he’s looking forward to the day when all North Carolinians can enjoy and make use of what will become the state’s largest municipal park.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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